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Last edited 17 Nov 2020
Ballymun mass housing and regeneration
Ballymun is a suburban high rise development which was built in response to the housing crisis in Dublin in the 1960’s. Consisting of 7 fifteen storey tower blocks, 19 eight storey ‘spine’ blocks and 10 four storey ‘walk-up’ blocks, the development was completed in 1969 housing 16,000 people. Upon completion the scheme was hailed as one of the finest examples of social housing in Europe, with prospective tenants having to attend interviews to obtain a flat within the scheme.
Located 3.5 miles from Dublin city centre, Ballymun was set to prosper as a successful and self-sustaining dormitory estate, however plans to develop the scheme in relation to its civic and community facilities failed. The proposed 10,000ft of office accommodation, cinema, dance hall, skating rink, restaurant, community centre and playgrounds never materialised, resulting in a feeling of disappointment and abandonment among the residents. The first tenant moved into the development in 1966, but by 1974 a survey revealed that almost half of Ballymun’s residents wanted to leave.
The lack of public amenities coupled with poor maintenance meant that before long Ballymun became synonymous with crime and drug abuse, along with a host of other social and economic problems. The rate of unemployment was in excess of 50% and there was an annual tenant turnover of more than 30%. The eight primary schools and two secondary schools, with over 2,500 registered pupils, experienced problems with absenteeism, poor grades and a low rate of progression into third-level education. Since completion, no private housing or further private investment had been injected into the Ballymun development and the existing facilities (a shopping centre and industrial estate) had fallen into severe decline. Throughout the 1980’s Ballymun became a symbol of urban decay and social inequality in Ireland. The transient tenancy led to social and economic instability and an emerging drug culture. It soon became evident that the ‘quick fix’ approach to mass housing had failed with an increasing number of disillusioned residents joining together to campaign for improvements.
“You go through the doorless entrance to the block and at head height a couple of squadrons of flies are doing an imitation of the Battle of Britain. There's a brownish pool of liquid in a corner of the hallway and a smell of urine and dampness. The bannister is paint-flecked metal, most of the paint rubbed, scraped or flaked off. The walls of the stairway and the first landing are covered with graffiti. Black, yellow, red, blue paint mixed with years of grime. The slogans encompass politics, music, love, hate, gang and parochial loyalties...With booze you lose, with dope you hope.” (Kerrigan 1982 p.2).
In 1997, the Irish government granted approval for an estimated €442m regeneration programme. The overall aim of the master plan was to provide a framework for a sustainable, social and economic regeneration and make substantial improvements to the physical environment. Dublin City Council set up ‘Ballymun Regeneration Ltd.’ (BRL) in the hope of transforming the 1960’s estate into a successful new town. The plan set out to achieve a number of objectives including the transformation of the physical environment of the area, the development of new civic and community facilities, new parks and infrastructure, while achieving economic development and social regeneration. The regeneration programme intended to relocate Ballymun’s 16,000 residents into over 5,000 new homes in a variety of styles and sizes, throughout five different neighbourhoods.
A key objective of the new master plan was to create a socially cohesive community within the newly proposed neighbourhoods. The regeneration programme aimed to do this by strengthening the connections between the residents of the privately owned homes and those living in social housing. It was believed that this tenure diversity would benefit the area greatly. The scheme would support the local facilities due to an increase in disposable income and lessen the demand on services such as schools and health centres. This in turn would increase property values and minimise the stigmatism of the residents of the area.
Another objective of the master plan was to tackle the economic instability of the Ballymun area. The government introduced tax incentives in order to make Ballymun more attractive to potential investors in the hope of reviving its economy. This has undoubtedly been a success with the development of new retail facilities, two new hotels, a nursing home and four community workshops. The opening of an IKEA in Ballymun has provided 500 local jobs in an area which suffered from unemployment rates above the national average.
The development of a main street to act as the public centre of the community has, to date, been a success. It has attracted a number of businesses to the area and is also the location of the Civic Centre building, providing office accommodation for BRL, the Health Services Executive and Dublin City Council. Elsewhere in the redevelopment the Ballymun Arts and Community centre and a sports and leisure complex have assisted in improving the social and educational experiences of the Ballymun residents. It is proposed that by 2013, Ballymun will have an underground stop on the metro North line, which will link it to the city centre with a 15 minute commuting time. This will further strengthen its economic and social appeal.
It appears that throughout the duration of its decline, Ballymun did not lose its sense of community spirit and pride, with the lack of outside investment and public facilities being the cause of its social and economic deprivation. Out of the seven fifteen storey tower blocks, named after the seven leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising, only one, the Joseph Plunkett tower remains standing. Locals are currently drawing up a petition to save the tower from demolition and leave it as is for all those who had or have the desire of living there. This community involvement proves that there still remains a strong sense of kinship among the residents of Ballymun, despite its negative reputation. The towers have been immortalised in U2’s ‘Running to Stand Still’, where Bono sings “I see seven towers, but I only see one way out” (U2 1987).
Although behind schedule (the regeneration programme was initially set for completion in 2006, but is still in construction today) and over budget, the scheme has gone some of the way to rectifying the planning mistakes of the past and turning Ballymun into a successful, self-sustaining community of 30,000 people. Undoubtedly there have been disappointments within the programme, with delays and several of the initial proposals failing to be realised. Some of the Ballymun residents remain unsatisfied and fear that history will repeat itself.
Despite this, it is evident that the integration of local amenities and the introduction of a more socially diverse community has enriched the lives of the Ballymun residents and significantly counteracted the economic and social deprivation which had become increasingly symbolic of the area. It is difficult to determine the long-term successes of the regeneration, but so far the scheme has made improvements.
Although not yet the suburban utopia it is touted to become, Ballymun has grown from the failures of its past and has been equipped with the amenities it needs to become a successful 21st century mass housing scheme.
 Find out more
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
- British post-war mass housing.
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- Estate Regeneration National Strategy.
- Housing contribution to regeneration.
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- Smart cities.
- Terraced houses and the public realm.
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