“Dear dirty Dublin” said James Joyce, and indeed, litter and dog poo can be two defining features of our fair city’s streets, especially on the north side of the city. But increasingly individuals and communities here are winning back the streets, using windowboxes and climbing plants as ammunition.
These terraced cottages have no front gardens but it hasn’t stopped their creativity. I wrote about them in a blogpost two years ago here.
Today I went back to visit Catherine who lives here and as soon as I entered the street, I noticed the contagion – the gardening bug had spread and having no land wasn’t stopping anyone. Colourful window boxes, hanging baskets, barrels halved and tucked against houses as plant containers. And not just pretty flowers humming with bees, but strawberries and tomato plants spilled out of pots and baskets. An inspirational street, only a mile from the city centre Spire. Catherine’s enthusiasm is infectious and I was thrilled to see that her efforts were recognised with a Neighbourhood Award , 3rd best “garden” in the whole of Dublin.
Now my own street is not far from here – we have tiny gardens fronting our 19thC houses, surrounded by railings. Some are neglected for various reasons – complacent landlords and tenants, perhaps unoccupied whilst the elderly owner is in a nursing home, but very often because people feel too busy to be bothered. This year we decided we’d like to make the street come alive with colour and flowers. And luckily Dublin City Council supported us.
Our first step was to set up a Residents’ Association. Then we set a date for a Street Clean-up. As the hour approached, the heavens opened, a deluge; I stepped out with my broom hoping one or two others might venture out too; within half an hour, there were 15 of us, ranging in age from 2 years to mid-eighties.
There’s nothing glamorous about a clean-up, but six hours later, with quite a lot of banter and laughter, we had accumulated 26 bags of rubbish, cleared out real eyesores, unblocked drains, planted up window-boxes, trimmed hedges, stripped and painted railings. And I think you’ll agree the results are quite impressive – especially for an inner city street.
Now many might feel that, it’s the job of our City Council to clean the streets, and of individuals to look after their own plot. But what if nothing happens? What do you do about dumped rubbish piling up in an abandoned garden? Do you want to live with rats, in an urban desert? Or would you rather hear birdsong in the morning and bees humming in the afternoon? Apathy is an attitude I hate to entertain. And certainly I found the urban Bee Highway in Oslo inspiring.
We have not done this to win any prizes. The upside of any community project is the sense of camaraderie it inspires – we share our expertise and skills, we look after each other’s plots when absent, we notice if an elderly neighbour has not been out and about, and police report there is a decline in crime in areas with community groups.
There has been a sea change in my street. Illegal dumping of rubbish has declined, more dog owners are carrying plastic bags. I can report too gardening has become contagious, bees hum through the lavender, there’s the sweet smell of roses, and blackbirds, starlings and blue tits have taken up residence too.
No longer “Dear dirty Dublin” ? We’ll see.