St Patrick Street | Cork

St Patrick Street, Cork
Category: The Great Street Award 2011
Assessor: Prof Brian Evans
Date of Visit: 2010

Assessment Summary

St Patrick’s St is a place for all the people of Cork, it is today an inclusive public space. The introduction of seating and signing together with the promotion of civic and community events helps to animate the street and provide a counterbalance to the interesting and colourful backdrop of retail frontages. The larger newly created south facing space between Academy Street and Bowling Green Street provides a flexible venue of arts and community events within the heart of the city.

The Street has a number of functions that encourage inclusiveness for people in the city as a whole whether for shopping, meeting or ‘doing pana’ – a local term for the urban promenade! The Street is used for parades and organised public events, busking and street entertainment – it works for the local retail community by bringing people into the city centre, without overcrowding or congestion. The management of this by the Council allows for local community involvement and is responsive to changing conditions.

St Patrick’s Street is well managed with a comprehensive maintenance regime that seems to work well. The street provides central Cork with a flexible and democratic space that the city previously lacked. There is significant anecdotal evidence to suggest that initial caution by traders and others concerning prospective commercial benefits and the boldness of the design by Beth Gallí, has been overcome and the street is now viewed positively by the businesses and citizens of Cork.

The assessment team were impressed by the comprehensive support for the implementation of the scheme demonstrated by the various departments of Cork City Council and external organisations including the development community. The robustness and clarity of the vision has helped to deliver major transformational change.

The selection of the design was via an open competition. The community and other organisations with a stake in the success of the street are supportive of the new public realm and the town centre management approach. This decision making process was supported by the City at the highest level. As the process developed extensive consultation took place with local businesses, bus operators, taxi drivers, etc. on how they use the street and to manage the construction process. This has created a legacy of on-going consultative process with the Council for maintenance and management

St Patrick’s Street has a very strong unique and distinctive sense of place. This is partly due to its irregular curved shape as it follows a former channel of the River Lee. This means that people ‘flow through’ in some parts, and ‘gather in eddies’ in others. These latter spaces encourage informal events and gathering. In part of the street there is a sense of enclosure, while in another it opens out with views across the river. The street forms a natural central space that contrasts with the surrounding narrow streets and lanes. The buildings along the street form a cohesive urban structure, with a mix of building types and styles, the overall character is one of early 20th century commercial buildings (1900-1930), many Art Deco, mixed with both 18th, 19th century and more recent interventions.

St Patrick Street is unusual in its historical development, it was previously a water course between islands, and has echoes of streets from towns in the Low Countries as much as other streets in Ireland and the UK. The varying width of the original channel and its course has contributed to a distinctive and varying cross-section that contributes significantly to its aesthetic and visual character. The crescent shape of the original channel was continued in the properties ranged along its length and that contribute to a gently curving and changing vista. In common with streets throughout the developed world, St Patricks Street had become dominated by high volumes of traffic and associated street clutter. The reworking of the public realm has helped to improve radically its aesthetic appearance and to reveal its unique quality without sanitising its “cityness” – a hard act to pull off.

The street is used as the main public space for the city of Cork, with regular events, parades, street activities, etc. The culture of the city is one of a trading and mercantile city, with food being a significant export, and wine a major import. This can be seen in the retail activity along and around the street, with a wide range of retail variety in the area including the Market. As the main space there is a variety of retail, restaurant, pubs and cafes, many with external seating areas. The street furniture and lighting is designed to ‘celebrate’ events with banners and in themselves are a form of public art.

The sense of place sense is very strong: the scale and style of the buildings, the street furniture, the contemporary lighting and street paving all express and relate to human scale: the Street feels comfortable yet distinctive. The design reflects civic pride, yet is functional and democratic, it is highly successful place for people whilst respecting the original form. The distinctive lighting columns have been adopted as an informal symbol of the city.

On the north side of the street there is a new retail development inserted behind existing buildings, with new and improved lanes that increase permeability while fitting in with the urban morphology. These provide good connectivity with the area to the north of St Patrick’s Street around the Crawford Art Gallery. The new retail frontage on St Patricks Street itself is modern, appropriate to its purpose, but with a scale and design that is sensitive to the streetscape and urban grain overall.

Other examples include new intervention into existing stores that are unashamedly modern but have been handled in a sensitive manner appropriate to context by following the architectural principles that help unify the Street on one hand but ensure a diversity of architectural style on the other. In itself this continues the traditions of St Patrick’s Street that historically has seen an evolution in building stock within a series unifying architectural principles.

St Patrick’s Street is well connected into the surrounding street network and the City with wide footways, cycle racks, bus stops and taxi ranks. The spaces felt attractive, safe and enticing throughout the visit. Wider spaces gave people plenty of space to stop and window shop, without blocking passers-by, people were sitting under trees reading, while others rushed past.

St Patrick’s Street is a very successful example of good urban revitalisation that has countered car based and out of town developments. It has helped to refocus the efforts of the City as a whole and, in the process been reinvigorated as the ‘heart’ of the city. This has involved creative development/planning skills, extensive consultation, good management, and no doubt a lot of patience to achieve. It is an excellent precedent for place-based learning.

The City Council and its partners are actively monitoring, learning and promoting the positive effects learned from the transformation of the Street that in turn was based on a study of European best practice of public realm improvement as part of comprehensive programmes of city transformation.