Mapping Sráid Thalbóid
A Study of Street
Research and Innovation
The street is an important part of the landscape of everyday life. It is relied upon for travel, shopping, social interaction, a vital living element in any city. A street is not created as a series of objects and spaces between, it evolves as a natural flow of moments and encounters. Having read some of Jane Jacobs work and other theories on the life of the street I became interested in the idea of using their ideas as guides to assess an Irish streets quality. I chose Talbot Street in Dublin City Centre as a case study and investigated the quality of the street life to help my own understanding of the texts I had encountered.
I am attempting to define what the ingredients that give the street its liveliness, safety, convenience and interest are. To begin with, a study of the elemental make up of a street is necessary but not uniquely sufficient in describing the character of the street.
Jane Jacobs once remarked that
‘No single element in a city is in truth the kingpin or the key. The mixture itself is kingpin and its mutual support is the order… a citys very structure consists of a mixture of uses and we get closest to its structural secrets when we deal with the conditions that generate diversity’
and she is correct, a holistic view of the life of the street taking into account its scale, inhabitation and use is what is needed. Therefore I have chosen to map the built and social fabric of Talbot Street to paint a picture of its character.
Talbot Street, also taking into account North Earl Street which closely links it to O’Connell street, is located on the Northside of the Liffey linking O’Connell Street to Connely Station, it is considered one of the main shopping streets in the city.
The street takes its name from the Third Earl of Talbot, Lord Lieutanant of Ireland. It is home to one or two significant establishments such as the offices for the Department of Education and Guineys department store. It seems to me that the streets use has diminished over the years. People used to come from all over to buy goods here. Now however it seems secondary to its neighbouring Henry Street in terms of investment by large stores and also people traffic. The difference in commercial success between Talbot and Henry streets is intriguing to me. Both streets run perpendicular to O’Connell Street off the busiest moment right at the base of the spire. And yet Talbot street, which ends at Connely Station and should enjoy a constant influx of people traffic is less commercially successful than Henry street.
The street has a rich, if unhappy, history. It was at one point the home to Lord Mayor of Dublin who owned and ran a public house here in 1912.
Lot number 94 was the location of the famous shooting of the republican Sean Treacy, which occurred in October 1920 outside the Republican Outfitters shop. There is a plaque of remembrance marking the spot and is the location of a memorial service that is attended by many Tipperary Hurling supporters when the Tipperary team are in the All-Ireland Final.
Another disastrous event occurred here on 17 May 1974, when one of three car bombs exploded outside a shoe shop killing thirteen women and one man. The event was part of the Dublin Monaghan bombings and was thought to be the work of the loyalist Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF). No one was ever charged for the attack that left its mark on the street opposite the Guineys store near the Lower Gardiner Street intersection.
Small attempts at invigorating Talbot street have been attempted and more are in planning stages. A renewal project was carried out at the east end of the street closest to the train station, repaving the sidewalks, introducing planting, benches and erecting memorials to those lost in the Monaghan and Dublin Bombings. A cycle route is being planned from Fairview to Talbot street for 2014 which would definitely add to the street which already houses a Dublin City Bike rank but does not include a cycle lane.
Certain institutions have relocated to Talbot street including the Offices of the Irish Independent newspaper, Bank of Ireland, Irish Life & Permanent Plc. These at the time, all helped to draw attention to the street but I feel did nothing to enhance the experience of the street as their inactive plot frontages merely create negative, blank spaces along the route. Even now some of these have vacated their premises and left behind grey, blank shells along the street facade.
active and inactive
“Nobody enjoys sitting on a stoop or
looking out a window at an empty
street” – Jane Jacobs
I believe Talbot street has untapped potential that is not being exploited. It could be used to pull together the historical and cultural integrity of the area into a coherent promenade. Either end of Talbot street is enclosed by an impressive sight; on one side, the Spire stands proud marking the heart of the city, framed by the Georgian edifices of North Earl Street, to the east, the vista is closed by the impressive structure of Dublin Connolly Railway Station with its distinctive Italianate tower at its centre.
The street needs people traffic to survive and succeed and the influx of passengers from the train and from the luas on lower abbey street via the Irish Life Mall should sustain it. People are the main ingredient that bring life to any street. They bring trade, bring eyes to the street, entice people along the street to stop and observe.
Now all that is needed are the facilitators of people watching and street interaction; cafes, restaurants and stores that spill into the street. In vibrant South William Street these are ten a penny, talbot street has but a few.
An active frontage could be described as a front whose function is easily recognisable and interacts with and contributes to the street rather than conceals itself. An example of an active front would be a café or shop whilst an inactive front would be a bank or solicitors office which might have a large frosted glass panel facing the street and gives nothing to the vibrancy of an area. Vacant lots have the same issue and can deaden a streets vitality.
It can be seen from the study below that the inactive frontages correlate largely with the less vibrant and more troubled areas of the street. Vacant lots do much to reduce the flow and liveliness of the street experience. For example the Department of Education Building does little to enhance the liveliness of the street. It is imposing and grand and closed off for the most part to the public, unlike the grand presence of the Powerscourt shopping centre on South William Street which welcomes the pedestrian into its grand facade.
Talbot street is in my opinion monopolised by certain services and products; travel agents, hair salons, phone shops and Two Euro shops are abundant but do little to enhance the streets character. There is undoubtedly a good variety with some ethnic food stores and historic jewelry and cobbler stores dotted amongst the cheap phone repair shops, but this overriding tacky standard of outlet is I believe too prominent.
I think that Guineys, though it may be an institution, has an overbearing and dominant presences with three outlets strung along the length of the street. Variety is the spice of life and a diverse range of activities and stores, peopled with individuals of many ages and cultural backgrounds enrich a street. For Talbot street, the main issue is switching from tacky venders to more individual retailers and restaraunts like Talbot 101, and the longstanding Talbot Street Dance Centre.
Talbot Street has a mixture of frontages onto the street but the quality of these establishments is, as previously stated, varied. The multitude of Two Euro shops and fast food outlets lend to cluttered frontages rather than more appealing galleries, restaurants and cafes. These types of establishments animate spaces throughout the daytime and help to keep the street active and lively into the evenings rather than closing up once 6pm hits and the street becoming deserted.
The presence of small enterprises does much to enhance the street’s commercial and employment based capacity. Family run businesses such as the Tara Leather Store and the Talbot Street Dance Centre, with their long history, hand painted signs and quaint nature enrich the fabric and personality of the street so that it is not defaced and overrun by corporate chains.
Apart from a few sparse hotels and bed and breakfasts, the upper floors of the street are prodominantly residential. However, the standard and nature of these residential units is unclear. Some ground floor businesses venture as far as to spread to the first floor but most use the upper floors solely for ancillary storage.
coherency and narative
The frontage along the street is punctuated by reveals in the edge that are no more than dingy side alleys that lead to nothing, with the exception of Gardiner street which is much grander and leads to the Custom House. Sense of enclosure and edge on the street is meandering with variations in depth of facade, width, shelter. In comparisson with Henry Streets more constant width, it is much less strict, more natural and enjoyable.
“There is a quality even meaner than
outright ugliness or disorder, and this
meaner quality is the dishonest mask
of pretended order, achieved by ignoring
or suppressing the real order
that is struggling to exist and to be
served.” – Jane Jacobs
There is a lack of consistency in the style of the street fronts in terms of scale, proportion, set back, level, condition, and I think to a point this is agreeable. Unity may bring harmony but I believe that the higldey pigldey nature of the street elevation lends personality and liveliness to the street. Though the input of a greater number of small allotments along the street rather than larger corporations and stores would I believe make the street a safer, happier one. As it stands there are a great deal of individual self sustained shops but the likes of Tesco, Guineys and faceless 2 Euro shops are taking over.
It feels that the importance of the street is defined by the grander larger scale buildings at the O’Connell Street end of the route and the scale seems to taper to a lower point nearer to Connelly Station. It feels like it would have benefited from a slightly larger scale building on the Connelly end to create a ‘Book Ended’ effect and properly punctuate or announce the beginning and end of the street.
The relationship between pedestrians and vehicular traffic on the street is a varied one. The depth and quality of footpath changes often giving the pedestrian differing experiences as they walk along the route. The road is not wide enough to accommodate large volumes of traffic and a one way system maintains a singular motion for vehicles and low speed levels.
Footpaths are for the most part, a comfortable width, with trees and a minimal amount of seating dotted along the route. There are perhaps too many spaces allocated to on-street parking which take up space that could benefit from more external seating and which blocks a comfortable cross-view for people on opposite sides of the street. Some of these parking spaces could be removed or at least restricted to business supply delivery purposes only. These deliveries could be limited to before 11am so that for the majority of the day the street is clear of the clutter of on-street parking.
In terms of cyclists, there are several bike rails along the route and one Dublin City Bike rank in front of SuperValu. There is currently no cycle lane along the street but Dublin City Council have plans in the works for 2014 to create a Fairview to Talbot Street route and encourage cyclist use of the street.
As I walked the length of Talbot street taking photographs along the way an elderly woman stopped me to say thank you. Confused I asked her ‘why?’ and she replied ‘I’d completely forgotten to go to that shop until I saw you taking a picture of it!’ and hurried away across the street. There is more to a street than bricks and mortar and it is important that we are sensitive to the role they play as the prime location for the human interaction which is the soul of the city.
I believe Talbot Streets main issues stem from discontinuity. This is seen in its length, its facades, its roofline, its quality of retail units. The street is both severely disected by Gardiner Street and differentiated from North Earl St. by pedestrianisation. This should be one large promenade and though of course differing elements enrich a street, it should be overall unified somehow. Unity not monotony is wanted however and I think that the natural mismatched fabric of the street level encounter should not be diminished.
Simple things like having a high quality ground surface stretching the length of the street, restricting on street parking, encouraging more cafe’s bars and high quality one off retail outlets would help to infuse a welcoming atmosphere along the street whilst maintaining the existing haphazard, mismatched character it posesses.
Talbot Street has potential to be great but needs to exploit its assets more and address it’s problems, such as poor maintenance of street surfaces, overflow of tacky shops, lack of on-street interaction with shopfronts and an increasing number of vacant lots towards the east end of the street.
ie/exhibition/transport.html (December 2013)
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: O’Connell Street area – 2003) – Dublin City Council
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