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“A People’s Park” The Cork Street Campaign

Cork Street Park

“A People’s Park” The Cork Street Campaign

If we’re in luck and we have a summer this coming year and a last few pieces fall into place, the people of this city will be able to slip off their shoes and walk on the grass of what was once Chamber street flats on Cork Street. This is the story of how one cheesed off local mother got together with a group of skateboarders and after years of grind and effort helped create Weaver Park, the first public park the Liberties will have seen in over one hundred years.

One day, a number of year’s back local Dolphin Barn resident Sandy Hazel felt fed up. Her son Cameron was not into football or karate, “My son loves to skateboard.” Sandy explains the appeal of something that’s not so much a past time but more a whole subculture and way of life. “Not all kids want to go to supervised activities, they don’t all want to wear a football strip, no matter how often you won’t get a game on a Saturday, sometimes it’s what the coach wants and then they get bored and drop out”. Skaters are social creatures; to them all that competition, all that training and running around is anathema. Sandy best sums this up “Skateboarders want to hang out.”

If there’s one thing officialdom doesn’t fancy its kids hanging out, the places where skaters  can do their thing are few and far between and if they’re lucky enough to find a spot it’s very quickly ‘stopped’, small metal bumps are left jutting up from the ground. Or if it’s not ‘stopped’ strategically placed street furniture suddenly appears. One way or another the upshot is the same, no more skateboarding.

Eventually Sandy had enough “I got fed up driving him to various spots around the city. I approached the City Council but they said they didn’t have the money, the usual story. [but] I persevered”. When some local skaters got on board things started to shift. Sandy recalls talking to them “From the beginning I said this is going to happen”. The skaters took her at her word and went at it, they turned up at meetings; they started a petition and standing outside their school gates got a 1000 signatures. Clearly hanging out and hanging back were not one and the same.

They faced a long hard battle, “we had meeting after meeting after meeting with Dublin City Council”. One of the skaters from Dolphin house, Nathen Hickey, made a video ‘A love letter to Tony Flynn’ pleading their case to the council area manager. Local councillors such as Rebecca Moynahan and the present Lord Mayor Críona Ní Dhálaigh rolled in behind them.

Gradually things started to shift. A €5000 grant from the arts council pushed things forward. “With this money we employed an architect who came up with a feasibility study. So we were able to go to them with this very professional ‘This is what can be done in a site in this area’ plan and they kind of sat up and took a little more notice. We knew exactly how many teenagers were being underserved in the area. We suggested a green audit (DCC did that themselves for us) which showed how little open space there is per head in the area.”

Sandy is not entirely unsympathetic towards the council “I have to say they always gave us meetings and I know for a while money was tight. I think we were so persistent they said we better give these guys something they’re just not going to go away.” It also seemed attitudes were shifting. “People are coming around to realising that skating has a real value, they learn good balance, it’s a good way to keep fit, it’s an outlook. I’d rather have a gang of skaters going up and down my Street then footballers, their nice bunch.”

A list of potential sights was provided, some were privately owned and so were discounted, the park group concentrated on derelict spots, “one of the ones we both agreed on was the Cork street site.”

Cutting a path from Dolphins Barn all the way to the Coombe, nobody ever described Cork Street as pretty. Sure, a closer look reveals such gems as the Garden Centre and the James Weir Home for Nurses, but what’s best tends to be well back from the road and what’s green lies behind walls and railings. Much of what were left with is grim; one whole section of the street looks more suited to an industrial park. A real park on the other hand might just be the start of something new.

There was clearly a strong appetite for a park on Cork Street. A facebook page set up early on in the campaign drew 800 people within a month; many of those were from the Tenters and Maryland, neighbourhood’s adjacent to the Street and crying out for green space. All told it seemed the park group had hit gold; the site ticked every box.

Just when it seemed that everyone was in agreement, disaster struck, a for sale notice appeared over the site. The park campaign group did not respond well or to put it in Sandy’s words “we freaked”. It seemed years of work were, quite literally, been sold out from underneath them.

At this stage they could have being forgiven for throwing in the sponge, but a quite word from their architect helped shift their way of thinking, “DCC were selling that sight as an asset and that’s all above board and legit, but that land does not belong to the council, that land belongs to the people, that’s our land. So when I thought of it like that it was much easier to beg people to sign this or beg people to come to meetings.

This new philosophy was to sustain Sandy, the skateboarders and the whole campaign group for the fight ahead. Councillors were approached and eventually that for sale sign came down. The land had to be rezoned from housing to amenities, more lobbying followed, months turned to years, but still they persisted. This September the park was finally green lighted.

Right now we’re in a consultation phase, the talk is of a recreational park with a micro woodland, a playground and pavilion and of course a place where the local skateboarders will get to hang out and do their thing. Nobody will be there to stop them, no metal bumps or carefully placed street furniture will block their path. From this coming summer, they’ll be free to skate on ground they’ll know is their own.

Few of the original campaigners will be among them. Their fight was a long one and the life cycle of most skaters is brief, a golden age running from late childhood till the tail end of the teens. Sandy’s own son Cameron is now nineteen and has moved on to other things, and even if he should turn up, and he tries to tell them about the day his mother got that bit fed up, they’ll probably be too busy hanging out to listen.

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