Last week, Mary Broe and I went to meet a community worker, Mairin, and speak to her about the Robert Emmet Community Development Project. By its own definition the CDP “is an active community based resource which embraces all members of this diverse community and adheres faithfully to the principles of community development.” In the short time that Mary and I had there, we could see that they’ve built on that diversity of the area and in particular the connections between the people who live in Oliver Bond house and the wider city community. This short post is about the geographies of those connections.
Oliver Bond House was Simms-designed and opened in the late 1930s. It is a massive complex of almost 400 flats which, it is estimated, has housed about 20,000 people since its opening. The shape of the blocks mirror the broad outline of the brewery and distillery that were present on the site until the early 20th century. When the Corporation decided to build this new housing, they built the blocks nearest the corner of Usher Street first and then the remaining blocks. It stands on one of the oldest sites in Dublin city but still houses a vibrant community of people with connections across the north and south side of the river as well as the near suburbs of Cabra and Crumlin. We tend to think of Dublin as divided simply between the northside and southside – but people’s realities are far more complex than this.
Not only do the people who live here have connections with local businesses and workplaces, they are an intimate part of the construction of Dublin of Dublin as a city. This is a city that has seen its fair share of problems over the last century or so but here is a location where people live in relative safety and security and little fear of the vagaries of private landlords that others around them have to endure. We met with some residents whose families have been here since its opening and some who squatted nearby flats when they became vacant because they wanted to remain. They were part of a broader struggle under the guise of the Dublin Housing Action Committee in the 1960s and early 1970s.
The topography of the complex might lead you to believe of course that this is a homogeneous and stable community of people, closed off from the surrounding city. The City Council, in attempts to limit joyriding and rat-runs through the area in the 1990s, made it a railing-laden and step-filled internal street with little or no permeability. Given its proximity to the Markets and Thomas Street areas however, nothing could be further from the truth. These two areas alone are connected with north Dublin and Fingal food producers and cattle markets that persisted until the 1950s.
Mary and I hope, through the work of Mairin and her team at the CDP, can help us bring some of these connections to the conference in October. They can build on the 80 year anniversary of the complex, celebrated only two years ago, and help all those present see that Simms-designed and other public housing areas are as real and as vital to the city as they were when the tenements were finally being torn down to give people decent housing.