Over the past few months I have opined and received many responses on the need for a big discussion on how Galway will be shaped in the next 10 years, because the next 10, and the opportunities it allows, will shape what will be achieved in the next one hundred.
It is a topic that has received much response because it tapped into elements of all of our lives, namely the need to create a better Galway. To make a city that works, a city that has a heartbeat, a city that does not sprawl on and on outwards with a soulless centre.
I wrote my original piece in the knowledge that much change was afoot in Galway — Crown Square, Nun’s Island, Bonham Quay, the Port Development, but yesterday came news of a project that may set the tone for all that lies ahead.
The land at Ceannt Station was one that was always going to be impactful, because it is a huge area of dereliction that offers much possibility to create a new sort of city centre.
And so it does. Full details of the Augustine Hill project are contained in two pages on Page 46 and 47, but it is no exaggeration to say this is a game changer in many regards. The most obvious will be height, but heading for the skies is a discussion that this city has needed to have for some time unless we want our suburbs to end up in Furbo and Athenry.
As an ordinary Joe Soap, I have often wondered why developments happen without consultation, knowing that compromise is possible on many issues that cause problems later down the road. But in the case of the Ceannt land, this has not been the case. An open consultation process was advertised and encouraged and those with genuine interest have come forth to express their opinion, to have an input into this process.
To try and influence what is built in our city without being against every sort of construction. To encourage the backers of these projects to adopt and implement good practice in every aspect of their vision. To implement sustainable aims.
Much use is made of the word sustainable, but few actually follow through to see what it means. It is encouraging to see that one of the globe’s most respected sustainability proponents, Bioregional have looked at this project and given it their blessing.
Let it set the standards by which we build all our projects.
It is also encouraging to see that there is much cognisance of the need for a higher level of public realm than currently exists in Galway city. A quick reading of the stats from Augustine Hill tells me that there will be more public space and civic areas in this development than there is in the entirety of our beloved Eyre Square and Spanish Arch.
By creating new public spheres, we are subliminally shaping the experience of living and working in, and visiting Galway. As a city by the sea, Galway should be more Vancouver. Chic, clean, modern with an eye on its history.
There is much work to be done before Augustine Hill appears on our skyline.
There is an entire planning process to go through, there will be much discussion about this and that; about height, density, impact, accessibility, and it is only right that the backers will answer all queries regarding this.
Bonham Quay is rising from the ground at an impressive rate and one block will be complete before the end of this year. In five years time, it may have a new neighbour, rising from the waste ground that wraps itself around our train station; an arid plot that lies just a few hundred metres from our city’s heart.
Let the debate begin, let the case be made for a new Galway in which more people can live and work safely — a lived environment that will encourage a new sort of behaviour.
When we look at Limerick and Cork, we can see that we are being left behind; that projects progress more easily in those cities; that there is a greater want for a greater city. Whether this is down to the levels of leadership or contrarianism, it is hard to say.
We do not want to wake up on January 1 2031 to the sound of broken bottles, of stags and hens, of pub crawls avoiding the vomit splashes, knowing that this is all we are good for. That this is all we aspire to by virtue of our reluctance to create a better place, to engage in the discussion about the type of place we want to live and work and study in.
It is the dawn of a new Galway. There is no turning back.