Historic Preservation

Posted September 18, 2017
  • Photo: Liz Volchok

  • Photo: Liz Volchok

  • Photo: Katie Levesque

Revitalizing Towns Large and Small in Galway

Armed with rain jackets, coffee, and enthusiasm, we were poised to tackle this year’s Preservation Planning Praxis in Galway, Ireland. Led by Historic Preservation lecturer Donovan Rypkema, the scope of the course sought to situate broad, international doctrines on sustainable development within an Irish context, through the utilization of natural and cultural heritage perspectives. From this jumping off point, two distinct projects formed. One took a close examination of Galway's development plan and designation as a European Capital of Culture to determine how the city could better leverage preservation as a means to meet global sustainability and resilience goals, and the second, a more targeted intervention, tested the viability of adapting the Main Street approach (a successful tool for revitalizing small towns in America) to an Irish setting.

Before diving into field work, we were fortunate to spend a week hearing from both local and international planning professionals. These lectures brought us up to speed on the international doctrines influencing our research, namely the New Urban Agenda (NUA) and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); as well as informed us of the complex history, laws, and regulations that shaped Ireland’s built landscape. The Irish dream most citizens strive for is a plot of land on which to build their own home. This has driven a culture that abandoned cities, both large and small, in favor of seclusion. Instead of clustering together, house sprung up along roads, resembling ribbons of development. Today, Ireland sees this lifestyle to be unsustainable - culturally, economically, and environmentally.

Figuring out ways to responsibly repopulate Ireland's cities and towns became the driving force behind each of our projects. For the project that examined Galway City’s development plan, we isolated four areas of research we thought were poised to have the biggest impact on sustainable development: environment, transportation, neighborhoods, and built heritage. We immersed ourselves in each of these categories, walking the city to create mental maps that highlighted successes and revealed weaknesses, before returning to the development plan and providing recommendations on which proposed  initiatives would best satisfy the goals set forth by the NUA and SDGs.

The second project shifted its focus to the small town of Gort, located in County Galway. Not dissimilarly to America, areas that have been hit hardest by modern development trends are the country’s small towns.  To curb the unsustainable ribbon development characteristic of Ireland, efforts must be made not only to revitalize the large cities, but these small towns as well. We surveyed Gort, mapping building use and vacancies, parking trends, and walking paths to better understand the space and how it was currently being used. We also conducted on site interview to ask the citizens and visitors of Gort how they’d like to see the town’s square revitalized. The gathered data was synthesized into a report and given to the the Galway County planning office to be built upon as they move forward with the Main Street approach.

Katie Levesque is a second-year dual degree student in the Graduate Program in Historic Preservation and City Planning. Her areas of interest include community engagement and cultural landscapes.