The City's Handshake
We can tell a lot about a person by their handshake, the same is true for buildings. By this I mean we can understand a lot about a building in how it interacts with the public, through its doorway - the buildings handshake.
In the run up to Christmas our cities doorways get busier, we meet old friends while out getting those last bits of shopping or as we pass between the many pubs of Christmas. While we pass through these doors we notice the differences between the quality of these handshakes and realise the difference in quality of the building, its surroundings and the relationship between the two.
There is a connection between the quality of these entrances and their surrounding streets, as one improves so does the other, though not always at the same rate. We can all remember holidays spent sitting or walking along streets of European Cities lined with cafes and shops much more inviting and active than those in our home town.
The benefits of this activity and improvement, is more than just aesthetic. The increased activity from the improvement of the streets will give continual passive security, as it is always those areas that are under used which attract the most trouble. The creation of comfortable and inviting streets will in one move improve security, behaviour and the economic fortunes of those businesses along the street.
Of course we interact with more than just the door, the entrance or impact of the building is formed from much more. Details of glazing, hardware, surfaces of both the door and ground along with the proportions of everything all have a huge impact on the atmosphere and how we understand a place.
The two main streets in Newry, Monaghan and Hill Street which have some of their original structure remaining do have the scale, type and range of buildings with the potential to continue the creation of a rich and varied streetscape essential to form the basis of the lively town we all want to be a part of. Both these streets have the bones of those bustling public streets we should be aiming for, unfortunately this potential is currently hidden under layers of dereliction, reduction of pedestrian area due to traffic and continual development in the backlands of the street - furthering dereliction along the street.
It has been said that our climate means our traditional high streets can not compete with the weather sealed convenience of the shopping centres. I would argue it is difficult to actually enjoy the spaces within these buildings, as the have no real connection to the place, the outdoors or remarkably even daylight in some cases.
With this in mind it must be observed that due to the impact of online shopping these types of places are on the decline, no doubt this will affect our town as well. This does provide us the opportunity to discuss the future of the town and how we want our future town to work - one defiantly worth thinking about before we are left with more huge areas, derelict in the heart of the town. Yet another reason to encourage the production of a live, continual and overarching plan for the town, which promotes the reinforcement of the core not the car.
With the decline in retail we have the chance to recalibrate the streets of our cities core, to encourage life and experience. To turn them into the places we actually want to spend time, not simply slightly annoying roads to drive along. With the shift in our economy to one based on experiences, tourism and leisure we should be improving our cities streets, so that it provides the wider footpaths, allowing space to pause for conversation and still have enough room to walk by. Comfortable and well maintained place to sit and rest. Quality ground surfaces that are clear, slip resistance and consistent, giving us some much needed way finding and delineation of the types of public space across the city. We should be putting some work into creating streets full of public doorways, shopfronts and cafes that invite, give shelter and provide space to sit or lean and watch the city pass by. We should be putting work into giving our city a firm & confident handshake.