Life moves quickly, even during lockdowns. The days were long, but the months flew. Businesses that came to a shuttering halt in mid-March are now approaching fully reopening. Covid 19 has heretofore been a catalyst for change in how many of us view how we live our lives. Sitting in the comfort of our car for hours has even less appeal than it did before.
The city centre is crucial to Galway. It is the cockpit of the plane that is the entire region. If this area is not ‘humming’ the effect is catastrophic. Businesses operators and owners know this. While every single business has its own internal challenges, we, as City Councillors have to implement a policy as best we see that fits all.
To begin, no business that relies on people entering their premises to purchase goods will survive without a strong footfall. One thing that sets Galway aside from every other city in Ireland is that we have protected our core city centre as the main shopping thoroughfare. We have not allowed or developed large out of town shopping centres.
For all the talk in recent times about how well Limerick is doing and how it is the up and coming city in Ireland, a large part of its city centre remains in poor condition. Some outlets have been empty for a long term, shop fronts neglected and streets in the centre are in poor repair. The building of the Crescent Shopping Centre and Parkway Shopping Centre has in my opinion impacted very negatively on the original heartland of shopping in Limerick, the core city centre.
Change has to happen
To help all businesses in our city, change of how we traverse through the city has to happen. We need to make it more attractive to walk around, to make it safer to do so. Some changes have been introduced; more are to come. Extensions for pedestrians have been introduced on Forster Street and Eglinton Street.
Cross Street will no longer be accessible to vehicles from 10am daily. I believe that Middle Street should be pedestrianised immediately for three months with a review then. There is an opportunity here for Middle Street to become the ‘eating hub’ of the city centre. It will help all businesses along there and make it much more attractive for new operators to open there.
It will revitalise the street and ‘put it on the map’ in Galway City. Running parallel to Shop Street and hugged by Abbeygate Street and Cross Street this extension of city centre pedestrianisation would have enormous benefit for all. And those last three words are all that matters, ‘benefit for all’.
The possible introduction of ‘parklets’ will also compliment this. A ‘parklet’ is a public seating platform that converts curbside parking spaces into vibrant community spaces through offering curbside seating.
Parklets will be developed by the City Council in partnership with local business and residents’ associations. Parklets generally have a distinctive design that incorporates seating, greenery, and cycle parking and have the potential to accommodate unmet demand for public space particularly in retail and commercial areas.
They also have the added benefit of supporting local businesses through providing a public, shared, area for their customers to use – this will be of interest in locations where footpath widths may not facilitate tables and chairs licences. I think they also need to be trialled on a temporary basis as they will not be suitable in all areas. This will only become apparent post installation.
Opportunity for Woodquay
There is also an opportunity here for Woodquay. It is a significant public space currently dominated by car parking. I believe it’s time to review this, remove the parking and open the space up as a public realm green square.
It has the potential to become another area where on street food offerings accompanied with some suitable street performances could be considered. There has been some recent discussions around part of this area been used by traders, who normally operate in St Nicholas’s but that area cannot presently accommodate all because of social distancing.
I am informed that traders and businesses both thought it was not a runner. Of course, they are entitled to think this and ultimately not to go ahead with it but why not at least try? I believe that this is a missed opportunity and should be revisited. Again, a trial run would be a no lose run.
At the beginning of March, footfall through the city was circa 400,000. At the end of June, this number was 140,000. This highlights the challenges businesses now face. When many people think of business, they think of the money the business appears to be making and little more. It is not that simple.
Most businesses are not just about that, otherwise there would be no business. When you pull back the curtain, a business is made of people. These go to work everyday to provide a service to the public and get a wage for them and their families to live on. Many businesses in the city employ young people on a part time basis throughout the year. This is important to parents as it gives the young person another purpose, makes them understand that work rewards and allows them to develop a little independence. It’s possible a lot of those young people will not get such work this year.
The type of change outlined above can be difficult and not everyone will support it but it is needed. We have to make the city more attractive particularly when we are reliant more and more on local people supporting business. We need the residents of the city and in particular the large population on the outskirts to come into town more often. I think these people need to see some change in order to draw them in on a more frequent basis. Galway City was always open and welcoming. We now need to make it more open and more welcoming. It’s a benefit for all, ya see!