From our Winter 2015/2016 issue. Be the first to read the next issue of Positive Life in print – Subscribe.
By Samuel Bishop
At a time when regional towns and cities have really struggled, creative projects tackling vacant space have provided an uplifting and refreshing boost for communities and I have been so inspired by the work of Edel Tobin and her collaborators in Waterford. First came New Street Gardens, a crowd-sourced park in the city centre on a derelict piece of land, followed by Waterford Walls, a three day street-art project that flooded the city with colour.
New Street Gardens
Edel, a primary school teacher with no experience in gardening or horticulture simply had a vision to convert a privately owned wasteland into a thriving community park. Its aim was to bring greenery, activities and life back into a disused space. A team of volunteers came together to build the garden in 2014 and although originally planned as a temporary project, it appears it will stay open for the foreseeable future, or until a planned shopping centre is eventually built.
The gardens are situated on a piece of land that is part of a collection of sites earmarked for a shopping centre postponed due to the crash. Entire streets were bought to be used in the original scheme. So Edel and her team first had to convince all local stakeholders that this was a project worth having. Apart from Granby Park in Dublin, there were no real examples of people-powered parks in regional towns, but once she had gained enough promises of assistance from local businesses, organisations and the community, support from the council followed.
These types of projects capture people’s imagination, build pride in the community and provoke thought and discussion. They challenged the status quo, and shift the conversation within the community and the cultural narrative. Edel was delighted to hear “I can’t believe this is part of our city” on numerous occasions.
Waterford Walls brought 24 talented street-artists to Waterford, including some well known artists such as Joe Caslin, DMC, Louis Masai and James Early. Edel teamed up with artist and curator Louise Flynn and together created a small team. The challenge with getting Waterford Walls off the ground was the lingering perception of graffiti or street-art as a form of anti-social behaviour and vandalism. In the end, this concern turned out to be unfounded as the community completely embraced the event and the artworks. Waterford Walls exceeded expectations with great feedback from businesses, the community and the council and they’ve already begun planning for 2016. Most of the 24 murals still dot the Waterford landscape so Edel urges you to visit them before they fade or get painted over!
Edel claims these projects could be replicated in any town or city in Ireland. That’s the beauty of them.
“It’s all about having a vision. You need to be able to point at a space and see what’s possible in a very clear way. It’s important to acknowledge that each place is unique and different and special. Identify the real needs of your community.” They didn’t require huge funding, investment or experience. But she stresses the need to get clever with your resources and be willing to put in a huge amount of work. “Don’t let money and permissions and people get in the way. They will come. You need a vision for the place. Imagine it.”
Samuel Bishop is coordinator of happenings.ie and streetfeast.ie. Street Feast is the nationwide day of street parties which next takes place on Sunday 12th June 2016. Connect with Sam on Twitter at @Samue1.