Thursday, 27 April 2017

My Cork Manifesto - Part II - How We Do It 

My last Blog was Cork City and how its people have forgotten our story...... now I want to talk about ideas for the future. 

Down By The River - Cork City Centre 
As a recent arrival home after many years away, I've looked at this most idiosyncratic of Irish cities, not really Irish at all, but a old mercantile port, an Atlantic City with ancient (and now renewed) connections to the rest of the world.

Road Bowling - A Cork Sport 
You can marvel at that staggering work of insight by clicking Here. But now I want to talk about re-branding or re-imagining Cork - and respond to those who have (fairly) put it up to me; "Alright, Genius - how do we do it?"

I've come home at a very interesting time for Cork. There's a real sense of change in the air, a buzz, an energy. But are we poised for a Great Leap Forward or (yet another) left turn into a dead end?

I'm Barrack Street born and bred. City Centre, South Parish. I've come back and see how Barrack Street is a perfect microcosm of Cork now - a bit shabby, a little stuck-in-transition - but with amazing history (a spectacular 17th Century Star Fort, right on my door-step) and lots of green shoots - such as three great bars and one great coffee shop. It could be poised for take-off, like the rest of the city - with smart investment - of the cash and imagination kind. 

I wouldn't claim to have all the answers. I do care.I want to stay here, see my daughter grow up here and play a part in seeing Cork city survive, thrive and reinvent itself as what it should be, a great destination city, a great place to work or start a business, a fantastically livable, compact, culturally-rich and energetic place.

I look to cities like Barcelona, Porto, Hamburg - thriving cities with a lot in common with Cork, Second-City mercantile ports that suffered for years after losing their trade, their way and their sense of themselves, only to be renewed and to find their mojo again. 

In 2004, as Berlin struggled to reinvent itself following the fall of the Wall and reunification, it's Mayor Klaus Wowereit declared; "Berlin ist arm, aber sexy!"  or - "Berlin is poor, but sexy!". 

It was a brilliant piece of branding in many ways. It turned the city's perceived problems into pluses and acted as a rallying cry for Berliners. Sure, we've been battered by history. We're shabby, we are not shiny and rich and modern like Frankfurt or Munich. But we are Us. And we have a story to tell.

So - what do we Leesiders do? (and by the way, this is not some great, unique wisdom from a genius prodigal son. I've had many conversations since I have returned, I know a LOT of people are thinking along these lines and there is already a whole lot of energy and activity going on).

But! I suggest we start by; 

Telling Our Story

We are an open, diverse, connected, culturally rich, sometimes quirky, always surprising north Atlantic port. We have always welcomed outsiders. They built the place, for feck's sake.

But we have not been great at projecting our worth and our assets. The city has tended to leave "The Tourists" to West Cork and Kerry, and held itself above such tawdry pursuits as drawing in people to stay and spend a bit of dosh. Thankfully, this is now changing with some strong initiatives coming down the track. The rapid growth in the number of cruise ships coming into the harbour is a very positive sign, even if the jury is out on how much the day-trippers actually spend in the city.

We have so much to offer as a top tier, compact destination city. Look at the great restaurants, pubs, cultural attractions and the, er, characterful people that we have. Let's all agree to tell a new story. Confident (and not chippy), open, ready to welcome all and show them a great time or a fantastic place to stay, live, work, play, start a business and raise a family. 

Write the fecking thing down (I already did, see my last blog), Agree on a style-book for every Cork institution that has any dealings with the outside world whatsoever. Tell the One Story. Project the One Brand, We are not the "Real Capital" - we are Cork, we're not better than anybody but nobody is better than us. And we have an amazing story to tell. Come and see for yourself.

(Also - help our schoolkids to learn and explore the true story of Cork. A module for all primary school kids telling the great, surprising history of their city and county. Start with the upcoming generation, make it a focus for regional confidence, and yes, pride). 

Loving The River

Sunset On The Quays, Cork
The two channels of the Lee surround us and embrace us. Our energy has always flowed down the river, past the docks and out through our epic harbour. It is our history and our destiny.

Yes, the flooding that strikes the city centre has to be addressed. But leaving politics aside, are giant concrete walls really the answer?

One of my favourite spots in the city is the little boardwalk outside the Electric bar & restaurant - where you can sit with a coffee or a pint, look down the river towards the docks or up towards the Gothic excess of St Finbarre's Cathedral. We should have ten, twenty spots like that along our open river quays. Seats, tables, greenery, cycle lanes, walks.

Build housing and hotels on the docks (I know this could be about to happen) - open marinas, put greenways down the banks to the harbour - use the rivers as transport arteries. Bring them back to life.

It's shocking how little we use our great river, port and harbour. Think of the Ras Mor - the mad dash down the river by hundreds of little boats every year as part of the Ocean to Sea festival. Is the city ever more alive or more in touch with its maritime heritage, its true beauty and soul? 

We should embrace the river, play along its banks, boat, sport and swim in it. In  1992, using the Olympics as the impetus, Barcelona - then dowdy and pretty overlooked - reinvented itself by turning back to its port and re-developing it's docklands - Cork needs to do the same. Urgently.

He's Not Really c
Get The Word Out  - We have traditionally been terrible at networking with our Cork diaspora - and they are everywhere, in London, Berlin, New York, Silicon Valley and on and on. Get them involved and energised. If they are true born sons and daughters of Cork, they are going to be patriotic, they are going to want to back there city & county (if only for the simple reason that they might want to come back to a better place). Here's a simple idea. A website for Cork ex-pats - "Cork Connects" - give them a place to talk and network, and - a practical and easily doable step - give them a information pack that talks about their home place, why it's such a great place to visit, to invest in, to live in. If you have a Cork guy working high-up in Silicon Valley - give him this simple tool, a digital package with details on investing and living in Cork, testimonies from the companies and entrepreneurs already here - so he can say to his boss, his colleagues, LinkdIn contacts whatever; "Here you go, look at this great place, It's my hometown and here's all you need to know about it".

Feck The Politics - As JFK (probably) said - there's two types of people in the world - those that want to move forward, and those that want to sit in the pub moaning; "You can't beat City Hall". We've had more than our fair share of the latter down the years. Stay where ye are, lads, we're moving on.

A Crowd In Town - JFK, Patrick Street, Cork June, 1963
Regionalism - Recognise the Real Enemy - Limerick.

Regionalism is happening fast in the UK - they are about to elect a powerful new mayor for the new "Metro Region" or the West Midlands. There is the (admittedly stalled) Northern Powerhouse, directly elected and increasingly powerful Mayors in many regions. It will happen in Ireland - it has to, given the ridiculous/destabilising gravitational pull and over-crowding of Dublin.

The new reality is that Dublin is not our enemy, or or rival. It's Limerick (and possibly those feckers in Galway). The Treaty City has come on in leaps and bounds recently, thanks to some smart thinking and progressive institutions like UL. This will be a fight to be the capital of Munster, or the South. Of our Atlantic Coast. Cork must be ready to position itself as the natural claimant, the entry point for everything from the Wild Atlantic Way to major FDIs, and the Tech sector.

Visible Branding - Street Furniture

When you are in Cork City Centre - there's not a lot to tell you that's where you are.

We already have some great, striking imagery/brands associated with the city - the UCC Skull and Crossbones being a pretty good example, Groups like Re-Imagine Cork/Mad About Cork have done great work in putting interesting/colourful imagery around the city centre. But we really could do more - more colour, more graphics, more murals & distinctively Cork Branding. Also - uniform, prominent signage - such as the obelisk style street maps they use in London.

We need to see murals/street art of Michael Collins, Christy Ring, Road Bowling, Hurling - Cork "brands" (if you pardon the marketing speak) across the city - open up sites and invite artists to do their thing. Use the city as our wide canvass, tell our story, splash some colour.

Spend enough time in Cork City and you will see bemused tourists wandering around gazing at maps and trying to work out where the hell they are (the two rivers don't help). It wouldn't be hard to fix, but it needs to look good.

Bit Mad - Looks Great - Cobh Colour 

And Finally -  Make Cork Beautiful - Conserve and restore the Huguenot/Georgian/Victorian and even Art Deco fabric of the city (again, look to the Electric Bar as a great example of repurposing a building while keeping and enhancing its character . Make more people aware of the Living Cities Initiative and schemes like it (seriously, 90% of the people in Cork I've talked to have not heard of this). Come up with a unified style-book for our streets, buildings and public places. This should not cost a fortune, but
make it more financially attractive for people to do the right thing by the fabric of our city. And more importantly, tell them how to do it.

When I think of Cork (city, Cobh, County and villages) I think of startling colour schemes on houses (such as in the village of Ballydehob) which are actually visually interesting and pretty unique (if a little bonkers).   

And we could start by bringing in a special grant to tackle the worst thing to happen to Cork since Collins was assassinated - Pebble-Dash.

* Hey Thanks for Reading

Getting A Crowd in The City Centre - People Wait for JFK On Brian Boru Bridge - June 28th 1963 

1 comment:

  1. Great article. Waterford are streets ahead of us (if you'll pardon the weak pun) in terms of street signage & street art.


Hi - I welcome comments - even if they don't agree with what I say or simply don't like it. But I always try to treat people with respect and I would appreciate the same in return. There's no point in calling me names or getting into personal abuse because there are only a handful of people in the world whose opinion of me I respect and - no offense - you are unlikely to be one of them.