Top architect brands Galway as ‘dominated by cars’

Architect Angela Brady, speaking at the Galway Environmental Network conference, 'Be Part of it, Your City Your Say', at the Portershed Galway. Photos: Iain McDonald.

An internationally-renowned architect has said that Galway City is lacking vision and is dominated by cars, with motorists getting priority over pedestrians and cyclists.

In addition, Angela Brady, former president of the Royal Institute of British Architects and chairperson of the Royal Institutes of the Architects of Ireland (RIAI), agreed that the authority most benefiting financially from car parking in the city should not be the same one investing in transport and urban planning.

“Walking around today, it was blatantly obvious that there was a conflict of interest. That needs to be separated – they should not be the same,” the presenter of TV show, Designing Ireland, said at the Galway Environmental Network’s (GEN) inaugural event in the Porter Shed on Saturday.

“If you allow car parking in the city centre, you will kill it. There are a lot of cities that have cut the amount of cars coming in, but it’s a matter of also increasing public transport in order for a city to work.

“I can be critical, because I don’t live here – this is a fantastic city, but it lacks vision,” she said, adding that the decisions about the future of Galway were not being made by those who would ultimately be affected by them – the people.

“To get this vision, you need to have a city architect with vision and a budget, with the roads engineer somewhere out here (well removed) because roads are killing this city, and killing its surroundings. There are much more important things than the 1960’s idea, where the city engineer ruled with no public consultation.

“You can make one or two bad decisions, and your city is finished, because people haven’t had a chance to have their say. You don’t not want to lose that chance of making Galway an absolutely vibrant and onward-moving city.

“The most successful cities are those that intensify, and don’t have ribbon development spread out, which brings all of the problems of traffic coming back in (to the centre) again. Traffic is a major problem here, I can see it as a pedestrian.”

Ms Brady pointed out that successful cities put pedestrians first. Galway was a car-dominated city, she said, with car parks using the best spaces.

“We have to play down the car, and have good public transport, good walkways, good cycle paths, good waterways – and use them.

“The harbour front is crying out for the right kind of development, the right type of urban structure but, in order to make a city great, you have to have your say as a member of the public, as a Galwegian, as somebody who is going to be affected by whatever decisions are made. The best cities are the ones that have got community consultation at the heart of every large decision that is made in their city. Without it, huge mistakes can be made, no matter what city you are talking about.

“We as professions, as clients, architects, or politicians cannot think that we know we will get something right, unless you ask the people who are the stakeholders – the residents, the public, the businesses – people make a city, and without their say, the city won’t work as well as it could, and it causes confrontation. You will get negativity when people haven’t had their say and I fear that in Galway there is not enough public consultation.”

Comparing Cork and Galway, Ms Brady said that the latter had turned its back on “the most beautiful waterfront.”

“It’s now time for change, to go and face the Atlantic, open up the waterfront, because water brings such life and joy to so many places.”

Referencing successful building projects in China, Scandinavia, and London, she said that, as architects, they must consider the social life of buildings, and any spaces in between.

On a project for Ballymore, a large Irish developer, on a site in the Isle of Dogs, East London, she was involved with designing 200 homes in a mixed-housing development. There were no cars allowed on site, and only a minimal number underground, with the strategy by the planners that only one-in-three homes had any car parking space in this development.

“Because they were beside public transport, there were very good policies to say: you don’t need a car,” she said.

Encouraging Mayor of Galway, Niall McNeilis, to start a no-car policy in Galway City Centre on a trial basis, she referenced the example shown in Clonakilty, Co Cork, which actually has its own Town Architect.

“This is a great success story, because the people have said: ‘We don’t want Astna Square to have cars parked all over it, how about we put people first’. The cars may pass, but a pedestrian has priority. Now, people go there, shops are thriving, people sit out in the square, as they would in Italy.

“They have festivals, where they close roads, and have the festivals where no cars go down, and they have a weekend of fun. It’s good for people’s souls, and the soul of the town.”

Ms Brady was one of a number of speakers at the Galway Environmental Network’s inaugural event last week, which was chaired by Daibhí MacDomhnaill, a Galway-native and a leading expert in urbanism in Ireland.

Other speakers included Frank Monahan, from Architecture on the Edge; Professor Kevin Leyden, Joint Director, Creative, Liveable and Sustainable Communities Research Cluster Leader, Whitaker Institute; Professor Ulf Strohmayer, Professor of Geography, NUI Galway; Patrick Faherty, Assistant Planning/Projects Officer, NUI Galway; and Rosie Webb, Senior Architect in Economic Development at Limerick City and County Council.

“The formation of the GEN, and its close links with Galway City and County Councils, the Galway City Community Network and many other established organisations will ensure that the environment in Galway now has a strong voice in the decision-making process at all levels,” said Caroline Kelly Stanley, best known for her work in promoting Merlin Woods.

■ To get involved with Galway Environmental Network, email galwayenvironmentalnetwork@gmail.com