Dancing with Wulf — ‘broken teeth’ remark sparks off a bunfight

We get quite used to people saying nice things about us. The jewel of the west, Ireland’s party capital, the graveyard of ambition; whenever you add ‘happening out west’ to a sentence, it is invariably positive. We have created such a cool vibe around Galway that to be a dissenting voice stands out and invites push-back...and that’s ok. To be protective of the place where you are from, where you have chosen to grow up, to study, to work is only natural.

I write on the topic this week in the light of the kerfuffle that has emerged in the wake of the comments made by German planner Wulf Daseking at the recent Reimagining Galway conference that was held in the city. The renowned planning academic in Freiburg and in University College London, was in Galway as the keynote speaker at the event, hosted by the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland (RIAI ), the Academy of Urbanism, and Galway City Council. We love finding out what people think of us in this country, so it was only natural that the bould Wulf was going to be asked, “so, Wulf lad, what do ya think....”

Now, while praising the Emperor’s New Clothes might be a habit of old that has cost us dearly in this city for decades, when Wulf spoke of the entrance to Galway, he didn’t put a tooth in it, and said he was shocked “because when you come towards Galway, it was like looking at a mouth full of broken teeth.”

Of course, a cloud of faux outrage went up at the temerity of this lad coming in and telling us what we already knew but were reluctant to say; that the spread of the city in accordance with the type of planning endemic for generations had made it often sprawling and inaccessible.

But, let us not think that this is just a Galway problem. Most of the cities and large towns in this country have suffered from middle-aged spread, resulting in people having to live in areas not served or suitable for public transport or cycling or walking. In this regard, we are all victim of the types of planning we have allowed to proceed in this country over the decades. It is a sort of planning that many would be loath to give up, because many of us like to live in standalone houses on sites of our choosing. If everyone wants to live in a house on the hill, this is inevitably going to happen.

However, to absolve ourselves of any role in the broken teeth scenario this would be to miss the point as well. There is little doubt that the city and its potential have been curtailed by a dearth of quality vision across many spheres over the decades. Culturally, politically, economically, religiously, there were many who came and ruled, but seemed to be just happy with being here, rather than planning to leaving any sort of meaningful benefit. We did not help ourselves either by making a complete hames of some high profile events, with the regular egg on our faces enjoyed elsewhere.

We have spent millions and millions on events that were supposed to leave a legacy, and yes, they left a legacy but one that suggested that if there were breweries in Galway, the quality of the piss-ups held here would be lacking something. Or that the committees would be so unwieldy and unrepresentative of genuine expertise as to render them useless. There is a long list of thinking that is restraining Galway.

Galway a century ago had massive potential that people then said would be realised in a decade or more. We are still waiting for the joined-up thinking that this city needs to make it as efficient as it needs to be and less of a spoofer’s paradise where livings can be stolen.

It is no harm for people like Wulf to come and throw a few home truths around the place. We will all be the better for the experience. But, only if it leads to anything being done. But, I wouldn’t bet on it.


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