A Sense of Place in Time

The topic of the Newsletter 6 is ‘Sense of Place’, which is one of the themes of the SoPHIA Draft model of holistic heritage impact assessment. We shall explore the theme ‘sense of place’ by looking at the case of Temple Bar Cultural Quarter in Dublin. This urban redevelopment project has been acknowledged nationally and internationally as a successful urban planning project. However, in recent times it has also been recognised at times as overly touristic and commercial by others. We offer two personal reflections on the sense of place within Temple Bar in 1990 (Part 1 from Paraic) and 1997 (Part 2 from Christine).

Paraic’s personal account one year prior to the regeneration project describes an overlooked and neglected physical environment but more importantly also a number of tangible and intangible heritage. The narrow Viking streetscape, Georgian buildings and cobblestone streets acted as backdrop to a number of sub cultural activity contributing to a unique ‘sense of place.’ Christine’s personal account from 1997 right after the intervention highlights a mostly positive change in the physical and social environment since 1990 with the addition of contemporary architecture that fitted into their context, as well as new public squares for cultural events and socialising. Many of the successes of the large-scale intervention are noted such as respectfully maintained heritage and a mixed-use urban design approach between economic, cultural and social uses of buildings and public realm.

The impact assessments carried out prior to the intervention by those planning the urban regeneration project was limited to some baseline data on the numbers of cultural organisations, business activities, and residents, as well as some qualitative description of the aspect of ‘sense of place’ linking place, culture and identity that helped to inform the strategic principles of the intervention. Particular focus was given to the meaning attached to streets and conception of public realm and how this meaning could be preserved. Between 1997 and 2004 there were a number of papers written making an ex-post assessment but no formal evaluation process.

Although most of the physical infrastructural development had been completed by 2001 the area continued to develop in economic, social and cultural activity. Today, 30 years after the start of the Temple Bar intervention, almost all the cultural organisations are still there and continue to attract local and national audiences. The ‘sense of place’ created by the surrounding built environment survives. However, there has been a marked increase in tourist related economic activity such as larger scale pubs, restaurants and hotels. There is a much larger number of tourist visitors through the area and increased nighttime economy. With the successful marketing of Dublin as a major tourist destination, the ‘sense of place’ of Temple Bar has been compromised. For many Dubliners the area has become a place for tourists and revellers that they find difficult to connect or relate to. This demonstrates how ‘sense of place’ can change over time and how a balance between social, economy and cultural activity can be knocked.

While there was a recognition by those involved in the management of the area of a clear threat of over heated economic activity this threat was never periodically monitored through a formal assessment. This represents a clear opportunity for the SoPHIA holistic model to monitor the impact of an intervention over the long term. A longer term ex-post holistic assessment would offer clear evidence of imbalances in developments which would strengthen arguments for intervening with preventative or protective measures to safeguard the sustainability of the ‘sense of place’ of the area.

Share this Post