Gentrification has become a major cause of social tension in Dublin’s inner city. Wealthy middle class ‘settlers’ are buying up low rent properties and causing an upward move in the local cost of living, forcing less-well-off families out of their homes and communities. Is this gentrification merely a fad imported from abroad, or does policy have a role to play in this crisis?

Eoin O’Faogáin’s recent contribution to The Bogman’s Cannon blog highlighted the worrying selective vision of Dublin that is being increasing presented through the vehicles of gentrified culture. As older, working class communities are being gradually isolated, demonised, and fractured, the readership of Niall Harbison’s Lovin Dublin are systematically presenting their neo-colonial enclaves of gentrified urban settlement as beacons of light amidst the darkness of the inner city’s great unwashed. It would be easy to think that gentrification in Dublin at least is a mimetic phenomenon, with the city’s middle class’ self-proclaimed ‘creatives’ imitating what has become the new avant-garde in London and New York. This assumption would be quite wrong.


Gentrification, certainly as it is manifested in Dublin, has been a long time in the making – longer than one might assume. In an often dense discussion of the ideal of the ‘European City’ in the developing trends of architecture and urban development, Philip Lawton, a lecturer in Geography at NUI Galway, explores how the Irish government and Dublin City Council have, since the 1980s, followed a dogma of urban regeneration which has been neoliberal to its core:

[T]he example of Dublin demonstrates how the ‘European city’ ideal can be incorporated within new urban governance trajectories as a means of legitimizing and pacifying the urban transformation according to broadly neoliberal principles.
– Lawton and Punch, Urban Governance and the ‘European City’

Regeneration has very much been in vogue for decades in Dublin, and the plans for the rejuvenation of the predominantly working class areas of the inner city have been caked in the language of partnership, mixed communities, and social integration. Yet this has failed to materialise. By the early 1900s the middle classes were in full flight from the inner city, taking their wealth and rates to the new townships such as Rathmines and Rathgar. In the early 80s the government, in an attempt to attract them back to the city centre along with foreign investment, began the project of regeneration.

What happened as a consequence of the overt financial incentivisation of government policy was the mass buy of up property for investment and private development – and a property boom. Instead of the mixed social ideal of the ‘European City’ model, low cost real estate areas became increasingly unaffordable to the people and communities who had lived there for generations. Lawton suggests that this development model was absorbed into the neoliberal tendencies of Irish state thinking and used to obfuscate the class warfare priorities of the regeneration project.

Ireland’s economic miracle was indeed the fruit of long term strategic planning by the state, and the transformation of the city to attract affluence was a key to the plan. As Dublin was moulded into the image of the homogenous global village the foreign investment arrived (build it and they will come) along with the settlers and a wave of gentrification. It would certainly be worth exploring how much this pattern of city development has been replicated in other cities where gentrification has had a serious impact on the urban social and economic environment.


Ali Grehan spells out the middle class nature of changing the identity of Dublin.


References:
Philip Lawton and Michael Punch, “Urban Governance and the ‘European City’: Ideals and Realities in Dublin, Ireland,” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 38, no. 3 (2014): 864–85.
Eoin O’Faogáin, “LovinDublin V Loving Dublin,” The Bogman’s Cannon (30 April 2016): https://bogmanscannon.com/2016/04/30/lovindublin-v-loving-dublin-by-eoin-ofaogain/


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