Kilmore Park in the north of the city is a rectangle of grass, 700 feet long and 300 feet wide.
The park sits in West Kilmore and at 5pm on Thursday, five people wander the green, shaking off the cabin fever of a day shut up indoors.
There are clusters of trees in each corner: six trees in one corner, four trees in the opposite corner, five trees on the far end, and nine trees in the last corner.
But aside from this, there is nothing else on this green space. No shrubbery. No plants. No playgrounds. Just grass.
A five-minute walk away, Coolock Lane Park is a similar blank canvas, save for six goal posts dotted through the green.
While there’s been plenty of analysis and discussion on the uneven spread of green spaces across the city, there’s been less talk about their uneven quality.
Some suburbs have only a vast open field of grass, but these days there’s more demand for smaller, better-maintained parks, trees, allotments, and playgrounds.
What’s a Quality Green Space?
A good green space has to tick eight boxes, says Robert Moss, who works for An Taisce on the Green Flag Award for Parks.
The park has to be clean, with good bio-diversity, and good management, says Moss.
Environmental management is also important, says Moss. They look out for things like whether a park processes grass cuttings and hedge trimmings on-site, rather than sending to landfill.
Community engagement wins points too. “It’s how the park places itself in the community. Does it have a bit of everything for everyone? Does it encourage community events in the park?” says Moss.
A spokesperson for Dublin City Council says that it uses those criteria to determine the quality of a green space, too.
In 2019, five parks in Dublin won Green Flag Awards: Blessington Street Park, Bushy Park, Markievicz Park, Poppintree Park, and Saint Anne’s Park.
Moss of An Taisce says that Dublin City Council is looking to double the number of Green Flag Award parks this year. Any green space can be considered for the award as long as it’s open to the public, he says.
There’s not enough quality green spaces around the suburbs of Dublin, says Theresa Kelly, an Edenmore resident who spearheaded the creation of a sensory garden in Edenmore Park.
“You see the big parks are great and they are kept very well but sometimes a big park can be overwhelming for a person with limited mobility, limited vision or who is profoundly deaf,” says Kelly.
In Coolock, Pádraig Kent says that he has limited options of green spaces to bring his children to: “If you live in the vicinity of Coolock, the closest greenfield site is Maypark.”
But the amount of dog foul can make it unsuitable for kids, he says. “I’ve mentored GAA games in there and the first 20 minutes is spent picking up dog foul.”
In the west of the city, Sinn Féin Councillor Daithí Doolan says that his view, and those of many residents, is that sometimes smaller green spaces are better – and more manageable.
People don’t just want open greens, he says.
He has had two calls in the last week, about people asking for better policing of greens because of scramblers and quad bikes tearing across them, he says.
Mary Tubridy, an ecologist who has worked with Dublin City Council, says that the council is working to improve the green spaces in the inner-city.
However, while the projects within the inner city are great, there needs to be an emphasis on the suburbs too, Tubridy says.
Tubridy has carried out surveys on parks and made recommendations on how to improve their biodiversity.
“Obviously the inner-city is desperately badly off for green spaces but I think the approach that they are taking in there can be taken throughout the whole of the city,” she says.
The council does have a parks strategy to make the city greener and more liveable.
“The strategy includes policies on increasing the quantity of green space in parts of the city which have been identified as being in deficit namely the Liberties and North Inner City,” said a spokesperson for the council.
Other policies for improving these green spaces include increasing recreational facilities, more tree planting and developing pollinators friendly wildflower areas, the spokesperson said.
Gerald Mills, associate professor in geography at University College Dublin – who has done research mapping trees in Dublin – says that, over time, what a green space is used for may need to change.
Look at Crumlin for example, he says. It was designed at first with many big green open spaces, he says. “At a time when there was bunches of kids around.”
Now, though, the neighbourhood has changed. “It is a relatively mature part of the world. Do you need the same number of football pitches everywhere?” says Mills.
This can be seen in other parts of the city, Mills says.
There are dense parts of the city centre where children have no playgrounds, he says. “We are left with these tiny little pockets of pieces and they are of no value for kids playing hurling.”
Moss says that as more people live in apartments with no gardens, what they expect and need from public parks has changed, too.
“The park in this century, in a city like Dublin, will have to deliver a lot more than a park has in the past because it is now acting as someone’s garden as well. We need to accommodate things like community gardens,” he says.
Changes in how the city approaches green spaces is something that Sinn Féin Councillor Daithí Doolan has seen too around Ballyfermot and Cherry Orchard in the west of the city.
In the 1960s, the thinking seemed to be that there should be these big open prairie-style green spaces in the suburbs, he says.
But in the last 20 years that thinking has shifted away from just thinking about the size of a space. “Sometimes, smaller parks are better,” he says.
Making Good Green Space
Doolan of Sinn Féin says that he has been to two meetings so far with local residents to talk about how to develop a park next to the Ballyfermot Civic Centre on Ballyfermot Road.
People are saying they don’t want just an open field, he says. Instead, they want biodiversity, wild flowers, and controlled entrances, he says. “Maybe a few rolling hills.”
People in the local communities need to be brought together and see what they want done in their green spaces, Mary Tubridy says.
Edenmore Park is an excellent example of residents, councillors and Dublin City Council working together “to improve the local community”, says Labour Party Councillor Alison Gilliland.
Says Kelly, the Edenmore resident: “I’ll go up there and it’s like the weight of the world goes up from your shoulders. It’s the most serene thing that you have ever walked into.”
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