Blue Sky Thinking for Greenspace Living

It will take some time for us to understand all the learning that will flow from the pandemic experience; so many aspects of our lives will never be the same again.

One aspect of our lives which we have known needed attention for a long time now, but which was brought into sharp relief by the experience of recent months, was how much access to greenspace is such an essential part of our lives, and how in this regard we have such a serious deficit.  Though Ashbourne presented a pristine, peaceful prospect with no traffic and near empty streets, the sense that pounding the pavement was no substitute for meandering through the verdant spring grass soon permeated the collective consciousness. Yet, with travel restrictions in place, short of trespassing in our neighbours’ fields, pounding the pavement proved our only recourse. Luckily the gardens never looked so well!!!

When Ashbourne took its first steps towards urban development, the key role of greenspace was well appreciated by its architects. Working to a philosophy propounded by Ebenezer Howard over a century ago and applied to great effect at the time in Letchworth and Welwyn Garden City in England, they developed Ashbourne’s Garden City. The impact of the greenspaces in that part of Town still impresses, and it is no small wonder that this ‘Community within a Community’ have achieved the supreme success in Pride of Place that has been their reward, again and again. But later developments were less fortunate, as the housing densities and paucity of greenspace in some of the newer estates attest.

This growing awareness of the need for Greenspace as an essential feature of an urban environment, as fundamental as schools, water, transport and other essential facilities, may have reached an inflexion point during the recent lockdown. We are aware that there are discussions in train which may bring some good news on this front in due course and that the issue is receiving close attention from our Councillors and the professionals in MCC. Recently, large landbanks have changed or are changing hands, and these may present opportunities to advance the cause of greenspaces for Ashbourne. This is to be welcomed and we should all stay alert and informed on these developments and play our appropriate part.

The Ashbourne Public Greenspaces group has recently developed a ‘Concept Model’ of a Community Park designed with both the immediate and the long-term future in mind. It is based on a specific landbank which came on the market in the last few months. But the concepts in this blueprint can be adapted for a different site, or indeed can be distributed over multiple sites. This blueprint is unequivocally ambitious, taking as it does the long-term as its planning horizon.

And this is where the Bluesky thinking will come in; the Future will not be just a repeat of the past with incremental changes. The pandemic has taught us that lesson. We need to plan ‘not for what we are, but for what we wish to be’; for a future that will have many opportunities for enhanced, and indeed probably more local lifestyles, but also for a future which will challenge us in ways we haven’t imagined yet. And planning with vision beyond short-term horizons is where we must start.

Achieving this will be a joint effort, involving the professionals at MCC, our Councillors, the Business interest, as well as the Community. It may give hope to reflect that the great achievements of the past (e.g. the Community Centre, the Golf Club, the GAA complex and many more) were won by collaboration and teamwork in the quest for a common objective. We invest great power and authority in our public representatives and public servants, and they have a key Leadership role to play in exercising this authority to remedy this deficit. But an equal responsibility rests with the Community, who must also engage their collective talents and energies in converting the Greenspaces Concept into the Plan, and ultimately the Plan into the Park.  It will take a collective effort, drawing on the best of the Community, MCC Councillors and Executives, and Business. And, above all, it will call for lots of Blue-sky thinking.