Only the Best for Ballymun

14 Apr

            Attending the mobile seminar at the Ballymun Regeneration Limited was an eye-opening experience to say the least. During my time in Dublin, I’ve heard bits and pieces, and not very positive bits and pieces, about the outlying “slums” of Ballymun, an area just north of the Dublin Airport. Beginning in the 1970s, Ballymun was considered the “bad part of town”, riddled with poverty and social angst. The area consisted of huge block towers that created over 3,000 dwellings for impoverished individuals and families from inner city Dublin. The government’s original intentions were good but the area soon fell to turmoil. Ireland turned a blind eye to Europe’s “best social housing.”

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Today, it is extremely fascinating to hear about the incredible amount of regeneration going on in the area in the last fifteen years. The poverty stricken “bad part of town” is now a booming community with modern social housing and various social and recreational activities. The Ballymun Regeneration Limited, initiated by the Dublin City Council in 1997, has demolished most of the old tower blocks and reconstructed the Ballymun area for the better. The project has provided new housing for almost all of the tenants, even going as far as involving tenants in choosing their new homes. Housing varies from apartment style living to duplexes. The one-kilometer road through Ballymun was redesigned so that travel from one side to the other is easier than the previous roundabout and underground passage. Numerous shops and businesses have replaced the dreadful pop-up van shops that were once the only form of business.   

Today, Ballymun is still perceived as an area of poverty and struggle (after all, it’s still characterized by social welfare); however, the negative perception is gradually disappearing. The regeneration project is largely responsible for this new positive view of Ballymun. “Destination Ballymun” brings people from all over Ireland through the area and encourages them to contribute to the thriving economy.  There are also a few branches of city government in Ballymun, including the Health Services office, making Ballymun a center for social activity rather than the last desolate stop on the Dublin Bus route.  Also, the tenants who were once isolated from their community due to the unfortunate location of the block towers are now able to give back to their community and get involved in making Ballymun a better place for their children and grandchildren.

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Hearing about how successful the regeneration of Ballymun has been makes me wonder if a project like this would be as successful in America. I’ve never actually heard of a project being so thorough and effective in regenerating a specific area. Most slums in America stay slums and people are simply encouraged to move up and get out. Also, it honestly surprises me that so many of the Ballymun tenants wanted to stay in the area after it became such a rough place to live. However, they are the reason the area is getting back up on its feet today. It’s just rather unfortunate that the project isn’t going to be able to exist much longer due to funding. The only option they have is to leave their plans behind for the next group of individuals who set out to impact the Ballymun area in the future. Visiting Ballymun made me realize that it is possible to change a community if you put your mind to it.

 

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