My Kind Of Town - a vision for Galway after Covid-19

A platform for Galway to put forward ideas on how, after the pandemic, we can transform our city for the better

Paula Healy

Station manager, Flirt 101.3 FM

Paula Healy

A good friend of mine used to half-joke that Irish people would drive to the bathroom if they could. During the wild Atlantic winter, I feel like this sometimes rings true.

There has been such an upswing in the numbers of people cycling recently though, that the quote attributed to HG Wells, “When I see an adult on a bicycle I do not despair for the future of the human race”, springs to mind (one of the very few opinions of his I agree with ).

Not knowing how long social distancing will remain a part of our lives, public transport, with its reduced capacity might not be the panacea I dreamed of for the city. Now it falls to cycling to bring people into Galway en masse from its immediate environs.

I am very pro-cycling. My father Patrick instilled this in me, with our trips around East Galway boreens, and every small move the city makes towards cycling and walking becoming safer, easier, and more sustainable, feels like a huge step.

'With a bit of will, and imagination, over the coming years, we could really make Galway an unmissable destination that is a pleasure to walk around and experience – no matter the weather'

I dream of a city where my eight-year-old niece could cycle happily without undue fear. Tied into this is further pedestrianisation of the city centre. Cross Street has been a revelation, and I cannot wait to see how Dominick Street develops. To come back to the weather, it is going to be tough later this year – roofing the city is not an option (we wish ), we will need to look at outdoor spaces and places to shelter. This is going to be so important for local businesses and the vibrancy of the city centre as the nights close in, and al fresco dining becomes less appealing.

I see huge challenges economically, with businesses struggling and empty units. The vicious cycle of high rents, premises left vacant, and reduced footfall could decimate the city. There is the opportunity, though, to host pop-up shops, cafés, art exhibitions, and socially distanced events, to keep people coming into the heart of the city.

Galway has the reputation of a home for arts and culture. With a bit of will, and imagination, over the coming years, we could really lean into this and make it an unmissable destination that is a pleasure to walk around and experience – no matter the weather.

Pauline O'Reilly

Green Party senator

During lockdown we felt that life would never go back to how it was before. We had streets clear of traffic, communities coming together to support each other, children learning remotely.

Today, we would be forgiven for believing that much was returning to normal, with children returning to school and traffic clogged to almost pre-Covid levels. The reality is that our lives are forever changed; for good and bad.

The loved ones we lost during the pandemic will continue to be missed. For families impacted by grief this will be the biggest legacy. Children who have missed school take their first days back to school tentatively, anxious about the unknown environment they return to. Those who have regained employment take back their roles, roles that many never imagined were vulnerable.

Many continue to wait to see what a new economic reality looks like. We all take a deep intake of breath as we wait to see how a return to activity will impact us. I hope it will be a positive outcome, but one where we do not forget how much we missed our lives.

'Covid has led more than 1,000 people to put in submissions to see greater access for bikes and walkers. I believe that with investment in cycling and pedestrians, we will live lives more conscious of our communities and our wellbeing'

To turn to traffic. I believe one of the most visible changes during Covid was the lack of cars on our streets. In fact our Greenhouse gases from March to May were down a massive 2.5 per cent, predominantly due to a reduction in transport fuel. How have we changed longterm? We have not forgotten how good it felt to have streets that were safe for everyone. That's how we have changed.

Covid in fact led more than 1,000 people to put in submissions to see greater access for bikes and walkers. I continue to believe that with the massive investment in cycling and pedestrians, with a greater contribution financially to youth work and other community projects, but particularly with the will from all of us, we will live lives more conscious of our communities and our wellbeing.

That willingness to live a healthier life takes government support to bring to fruition. The Galway I would like to see is one that has greater emphasis on active transport, public transport, healthy schools, local and national art, local businesses, locally grown produce, and expanded markets.

Jacquie Horan

CEO COPE Galway

I think it is fair to say that, even in what was considered ‘normal’ times, our community faced significant challenges which got in the way of individuals and families living their fullest lives.

Our vision in COPE Galway is for a community where every person is valued, cared for and supported at every stage of life. To achieve this, we need to overcome challenges such as responding to the growing demographic of older people, to create and support opportunities to live as independent and dignified a life as possible.

Other challenges exist in tackling the levels of domestic abuse faced by women and children, and the crisis levels of homelessness affecting so many people and families in Galway.

The new reality of the COVID-19 pandemic brings tremendous uncertainty, instability, risks, and complexities that were previously unimaginable. Many of us have experienced heightened levels of anxiety due to this virus and its associated challenges. Most of us have coping strategies, supportive families, friends, and a level of resilience that will bring us through. Nevertheless, we still find it hard, don’t we?

'This pandemic has united us in a singular way – our humanity. It has made us realise how vulnerable and fragile we are as a human population'

Our experiences might give us an insight into the ongoing, everyday world for many in our communities. People whose life story may have been affected by family conflict and violence, physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, neglect, insecurity, absence of love and care, or all of these together.

Some have overcome extreme adversity, especially in their young lives, and managed to survive and thrive. Yet we now know that adverse childhood experiences leave deep and damaging impacts on our lives, often leading to outward consequences such as addictions, mental ill health, extreme anxiety, isolation and much more.

This pandemic, in crossing our entire planet, has united us in a singular way – our humanity. It has made us realise how vulnerable and fragile we are as a human population, and reminded us that we can only withstand so much before we start to break down, and need some help from others in our community to rebuild ourselves.

'This pandemic has made us all realise how precious, and how fragile, we are as human beings, and that our connections to each other are what matters most'

I see so much compassion and humanity across COPE Galway in our work with people who are going through a tough time in their lives. I also see the effect this pandemic is having on people who are struggling with loneliness, addiction, depression, mental ill-health, family breakdown, loss of confidence, and diminishing well-being.

I know Galway to be a community that has reached out to help in so many ways over the past months, and was doing so way before the arrival of Covid-19. This pandemic has made us all realise how precious, and how fragile, we are as human beings, and that our connections to each other are what matters most.

So my Galway is one that continues to reach out and to offer kindness, understanding and compassion, in whatever way we can, to those we meet along the way. We all need this now more than ever.

 

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