I caught an interesting discussion on the Pat Kenny Show on Newstalk the other morning. Pat was interviewing (actually a more accurate verb might be ‘crucifying’) the Chief Executive of The Housing Agency.
And perhaps the most striking and interesting thing about the Chief Executive of The Housing Agency was how fondly he spoke, how staunch an advocate he seemed to be of all things high density and downright continental in the realm of planning and housing. Yes, he spoke very fondly of a whole range of things that he and his agency have abjectly failed to ever implement.
If you feel like giving yourself a bit of a giggle someday you should have a look at the website of ‘The Housing Agency’, maybe on your lunch break or when you are really, really bored.
According to the blurb that will greet you right there on the home page:
“The Housing Agency was set up in May 2010 to work with and support local authorities, approved housing bodies, and the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government in the delivery of housing and housing services.
Our Vision is to enable everyone to live in good quality, affordable homes in sustainable communities.
Our Mission is to be housing experts driven by an understanding of the central role housing plays in people’s quality of life and life changes.
Our Values are; independent influence, quality expertise, innovation and solution focused, respected reputation and collaboration.
To make a real difference to peoples’ lives by promoting sustainable communities, we will enable increased supply through promotion of quality and sustainability in housing delivery and management, provide a range of resolution services to address national level housing issues, be a knowledge-centre for housing policy and practice.”
Eh, come again? I was particularly taken with the repeated references to ‘sustainable communities’. In fact, if I’m not mistaken, there is a sentence in there which contains the words ‘everyone’, ‘quality’, ‘affordable’ and ‘sustainable’. They’re gas, these lads.
Do you think a first- time visitor to Ireland with even a mild interest in urban development, planning and housing would see any evidence of the work of such a body if they were to spend a couple of days driving around the country? No. They would see a resounding need for such a body and I’m sure would be flabbergasted to be told that one already exists.
This agency has been in existence for almost eight years, ample time to make some sort of impact on policy and approach towards the provision of accommodation. Yet we see no sign of the slightest ideological shift. The same dreadful, sprawling, low rise, soulless suburban schemes will be greenlighted the same as they always have been.
To my mind, one of the most striking things about a visit to any continental European city has always been how teeming with life the actual city itself always is. In Lisbon, for example, you will see washing hung out to dry on the balconies of eight and ten storey apartment buildings right in the heart of downtown. Cheek by jowl with the tourist hot spots, people are living. Native Lisbonites. As you walk around the beautiful narrow lanes of the old town you will come across families sitting on chairs on the cobble footpaths right outside their front doors.
And the modest nature of these apartment blocks could hold the key to their potential success in an Irish context. We don’t need to go high- rise, medium-rise will do. What we unquestionably need to do is increase density. We also need to match demographics to settings. A single city professional doesn’t belong in a four- bedroom detached house in Lucan. They belong in a five hundred square foot studio in Ringsend.
In 2017 everything is changing at a head spinning rate, why shouldn’t our approach to something as fundamental as housing reflect the way we live now?
Some progressive thinking is needed, if only we had a dedicated State agency that could take care of that for us. Oh wait…