Newry could be a "15 minute" City
Newry has led a number of lives, starting as a monastery, growing to a mercantile town of industry and in its most recent reincarnation, a cross border retail hub. If it is to continue to future lives it needs to evolve and begin to erase the remaining errors of its latest life. It must offer people something they need, with the decline in high street retail it would be worth thinking about providing people a comfortable, sustainable and affordable place to live.
The idea of the 15 minute city has been a keen topic of discussion lately in urban design, partly as a result of pandemic lockdowns. The basic principle is that all residents of the city should have all amenities provided within a 15 minute walk of their home, allowing the majority of journeys to be car free and freeing cities from the problems associated with cars.
Newry is small enough that everything can be within this 15 minute radius. The issue is a lack of places to live within this radius, people have been forced out and due to a lack of public transport must drive in. This has resulted in an ever increasing amount of roads, carving up the fabric of the city and creating spaces which are uncomfortable to walk through and lousy with air pollution. The amount of cars “visiting” the town has resulted in a ridiculous proportion of the town being given to car parks (47 acres, not counting the on street spaces) and leads to every conversation on the city’s future getting trapped in this feedback loop, just look at the civic centre and the cathedral.
Adapting Newry to work as a 15 minute city would allow us to create comfortable and desirable places for people, places accessible sustainable and most importantly a city of spaces in which people have a greater importance than their cars. We have an abundance of empty upper floors and derelict shops that could be converted to dwellings providing a market for the shops, office and cafes below. A street overhauled in such a manner would give a thriving, diverse and safe street thanks to passive surveillance and pride these residents would have over the area, the beginnings of a new town.
To look at the scale above, the formerw Dunnes stores building is important within the town, it links Hill street to the Mall and defines O’Hagan street. This connection gives the building a presence which affects a wider part of the town, particularly when the neighbouring corner buildings of the Hibernian club and Bank buildings are considered. The buildings scale and decoration allow it to act as a harmonious focal point within the fabric of the town, it does not stand out but elevates the surrounding buildings, an effect any replacement would struggle to replicate. Here we have 29,000 square feet of building on 0.4 acres with the ability to provide 29, 2-bedroom apartments without major extension (based on a very quick calculation) this would be a significant boost for the provision of life within the town. An extension to repair the more decrepit parts would increase the amount of space available, just think of the benefits for the city from the creation of at least 30 homes, some offices and retail space, within the heart of the city, without the carbon footprint associated with the demolition and construction a new building.
In addition to the carbon benefits is the retention of the buildings architectural quality, the craft and skill on display in the brick work on parts of the building is higher than what would be financially viable in any modern replacement. The retention of this building would be to the benefit of the city’s character as it moves to it’s new life. In order to work this building will need some repair, adaptions and extensions, the architecture of these will be need to work in conjunction with the existing improving both. This approach requires a skillful hand to work; one willing to understand and work with the existing and one with enough restraint to ensure the qualities of the existing are not lost.
This is only one large example, there are any number of smaller scale interventions possible across the city and the provision of accommodation is only part of the creation of a livable city. The section would be the infrastructure of the city, this has a significant impact upon the quality of life within a city. For a city to work its buildings, infrastructure and social engineering have to align, key to any successful city is a clear and coherent strategy guiding all decisions, at the minute Newry does not appear to have this, however it could be rectified.
More on this next time.