This is Granby Park, in the heart of Dublin’s north inner-city. A few weeks ago, it didn’t have a name. It didn’t have an open-air theatre or a café. There was no library or creative workshop space. There were no art installations, and no children playing here. A few weeks ago, it was just another vacant, derelict site in an area of the city with more than its fair share of vacant, derelict sites. But for the next month, this site has been given a new, creative and inspiring lease of life by the volunteer arts collective, Upstart.
I used to live around here, not too far from this corner of Parnell Street and Dominick Street Lower, in the last of the boom years. I passed the flats that used to stand on this vacant site just about every day, on my way to work, to buy groceries or just walking into town. I watched those flats be boarded up, one by one, saw the council notice about their impending demolition and the regeneration of the street. Then I moved away. First to the suburbs, then to the south side, and then to another country, and never saw what happened next. Or didn’t happen.
Six years on, the flats are gone, but so are the funds for the regeneration. The site was fenced off, like so many others in this area, behind billposted hoardings, left to gather rubble and rubbish, to sprout wild grass and buddleia. Yet another sector of the city rendered redundant, like so many of its people, waiting in vain for better days, for when or if the recession might turn around.
There are apparently around 200 such sites in Dublin, and a disproportionate concentration in the area around Parnell Street. I found this out when I took shelter from a rain shower while visiting the newly-opened, pop-up park at the weekend. I ducked into in a tiny, mirror-clad shed that turned out to be the exhibition space for a video study by Stephen Rigney and Eoin O’Mahony that asks why there are so many derelict sites after such a sustained property boom in the city.
From abandoned wasteland to active community space
It would appear this very question that inspired the development of Granby Park. At the opening of the park last Thursday, Upstart’s Sam Bishop said that people pass these sites all the time and question why they are empty. They themselves asked this of the abandoned Dominick Street site three years ago but, he said, “we saw more than what was there.” Such vacant sites might be the sorry scars of the self-deluding greedy naivety of the boom years, but the suggestion is that there is no reason why that is all they can be. There can be a different way of looking at them also, that looks beyond the failure and sees their potential. Such an alternative perspective, combined with the collaborative effort of ambitious and inventive groups of people, can turn an abandoned wasteland into an active community space.
That ambition and inventiveness was not just Upstart’s. It took consultation with the local community groups and the residents of the remaining flats on Dominick Street. It took youth groups from Dublin and Belfast coming together to build the Dubfast Theatre from old pallets – turning a symbol of community division in the North (where pallets are used for loyalist bonfires) and of street markets in Dublin (as any wander up nearby Moore Street can attest) into a creative venture that brings the communities together. It took the support of hundreds of people contributing to the FundIt campaign. All told, it took the participation of 1,107 people to bring Granby Park into being.
That is just the beginning. The Upstart folks are going to great pains to stress that where Granby Park goes depends on the people of Dublin. The idea is not just to make creative use of a derelict site in the deprived inner city, nor just to inspire creative approaches to other such sites – though it is both of these things. According to Sam Bishop in his speech on Thursday, the idea is “to create a platform for the people of Dublin to express themselves, to come together and to make something happen.” That could mean signing up for, or setting up, a creative workshop at the park’s Trade School. It could mean volunteering to help staff the café. It could mean attending, or even putting on, performances in the theatre. The idea is that the collaboration continues – that people get involved during the park’s month-long lifespan.
Creativity and community seem to prosper in times of crisis, and to me, Granby Park is an ideal embodiment of that tendency. It might only be here for a month, but by inspiring that kind of creative collaboration, its impact will surely endure beyond that. I for one intend to make the most of it while it’s here. If you’re in Dublin between now and 22 September, I’d recommend you do the same.
Granby Park is open every day until 22 Sept from 8am – 7pm Monday to Friday, and 10am – 7pm Saturday and Sunday. It’s free in, not for profit and run solely by volunteers. With plenty of events in the park to come, I’ll have more to say here over the next four weeks.
Have you been to Granby Park? What are your thoughts? Or has your hometown seen any creative community responses to the economic crisis? Comment below…