With the recovery underway there is the challenge to ensure that the city centre remains the prime retail destination of the State. There remains the attraction of suburban and regional centres outside of the city’s administrative area. It is vital, therefore, that pivotal sites remaining undeveloped are fully utilised to help maximise the city centre’s competitiveness and that the city is made more attractive to shoppers.
Dublin’s city centre shopping experience is currently heavily concentrated on the main shopping streets or spines of Henry Street and Grafton Street and there remains the challenge to expand pedestrian footfall beyond these immediate areas and to strengthen the cross-river links also. This will be vital as large sites are re-developed, particularly north of the River Liffey. A key challenge remains the strengthening of the pedestrian routes linking the north and south retail core areas to create a more cohesive retail core, notwithstanding recent improvements such as the Grafton Street public realm improvements that will improve the general retail ambience and experience.
The provision of units of adequate size for prestige brands in the Grafton Street/ Southern Retail Core area is still an issue, though this may be easier to alleviate as retail sentiment improves and investment in such development become more attractive.
There are areas where the city centre is succeeding in terms of a vibrant shopping environment with a successful mix of shops, bars and restaurants and other retail uses that provide a competitive edge, for example Capel Street, South William Street and Castle Market. The Business Improvement District Scheme (BIDS) (www.wearedublintown.ie), a joint venture between the city centre business community and Dublin City Council, is proving an effective mechanism to revitalise, manage and maintain the city centre environment. The scheme was instrumental in attaining for Dublin the prestigious Purple Flag designation for safe and vibrant night environments. However, the challenge is to expand this initiative across the city centre and tackle the perceived image of an unsafe night environment in certain areas of the city.
In the suburbs, there are challenges relating to the traditional street, the parade of local shops or older shopping centres that are no longer strongly competitive and have now to compete with the growing presence of discount retailers and e-commerce. These factors can lead to unsustainable travel patterns with people driving to more attractive centres at further distances for convenience shopping needs.
It is critical to ensure quality retail design in all areas of the city and especially those with historic streetscapes or otherwise high-quality visual domains. It is also equally important to ensure that emerging neighbourhoods such as Ashtown/ Pelletstown or Docklands broadly follow those objectives regarding urban design contained in LAP or SDZ documents. The challenge, therefore, is to ensure consistent quality and not allow any diminution as the recovery progresses.
The Living City Initiative is a scheme of property tax incentives designed to regenerate pre-1915 buildings within the canals (www.revenue.ie). The scheme applies to designated special regeneration areas (SRA). The SRA for Dublin City encompasses much the same area as the retail core and the retail market streets and is targeted at the substantial number of properties with vacant upper levels. It is anticipated that the refurbishment of such properties, including the ground floor retail element, will result in a larger residential population within the retail core and help create a livelier city, particularly in the evening. However, this will be an ongoing process and the challenge will be to make mass city centre residential habitation viable and popular again.