HARP Background

The Historic Area Rejuvenation Project (HARP) Framework Plan was initially prepared in 1996 for an area comprising 109 hectares in the north-west inner city which had long suffered years of neglect and decay. This Plan had a number of antecedents including the Dublin City Development Plan, the Urban Renewal Tax Incentives 1986/1994, the Dublin Transport Initiative 1995, and an outline HARP Plan submitted to the Department of the Environment in 1994.

Subsequent to the introduction of the 1998 Urban Renewal Scheme and Guidelines for the preparation of Integrated Area Plans (IAPs), it was determined that the HARP Framework Plan met all the criteria required of an IAP. It was believed that the adoption of the Plan as an IAP would help secure the success of its strategies.

The Plan itself is directed by a project team in the Dublin City Council and overseen by a monitoring committee comprised of representatives from the Local Authority, the community and business interests. It began by highlighting the importance of community consultation (discussed later), then provided both an analysis of the central issues involved in the renewal of the area and the strategies to be undertaken in response to them. It also focused on harnessing the strengths of the area, specific projects to be implemented and opportunities that should be exploited.
According to the Plan, the central issues of the area were:

  • Land Use & Investment
  • Quality of the Built Environment
  • Urban Design
  • Movement & Transport
  • Socio-economic Issues
  • Tourism
  • Conservation
  • Recreation & Culture
  • Residential

The Integrated Area Plan: Main Issues

1. Land Use & Investment

A Land use Survey of Dublin's inner city was carried out by Dublin Corporation during 1993/1994 that emphasised the three strong functional sectors of the HARP area - retail, market and legal. It also highlighted the weaknesses by recording the location and extent of dereliction and vacant sites.

The retail sector is focused to the east of the HARP area around Henry Street and Mary street whilst west of Capel Street there is a shift of dominant land use towards wholesale in the markets sector. Further west, the legal sector has a very strong presence around the fulcrum of the Four Courts. Moving westwards again, in 1993 at least, one would then encounter the post-industrial vacancy of Smithfield before finally arriving at the area dominated by Collins Barracks.

2. Quality of the Built Environment

Analysis of maps from the mid-nineteenth century shows that the area developed a physical form which remains largely intact, albeit in a degraded state. However such analysis fails to take into account the huge decline in socio-economic felt by the people in the area within and between the walls of this built environment.

A survey of the physical environment, referred to as a 'Blackspot Analysis' was carried out in 1996 that found that there was much evidence of dereliction and dilapidation especially to the west around Smithfield and North King Street. It also found that a poor quality standard of the public domain existed in the form of paving, street furniture and lighting. This added to traffic congestion, pollution and residential complexes badly in need of repair meant that it was extremely difficult to attract any investment into the area.

3. Urban Design

According to the Plan, the urban design approach undertaken for the HARP area 'is based on the belief that the quality of a place does not derive solely from the attributes of the physical environment but also refers to the liveability which results from the interactions between the buildings and the uses and movements supported by these buildings'.
The Plan's approach stressed the importance of:

(a) Context - every effort must be made to respect and conserve the existing urban arrangement

(b) Permeability - places, buildings and their functions must be made more permeable and transparent to pedestrians; streets must be reanimated and humanised.

(c) Coherence / Legibility - space must be provided that is more coherent and legible by infilling gap sites, carefully designing the public domain and respecting the historic pattern of streets.

4. Movement & Transport

A survey of the transportation situation in the HARP area highlighted the following problems:

  • Severe congestion on the main routes through the area
  • Environmental degradation on Capel Street due to traffic
  • 'Rat-running' through Smithfield and the Markets
  • Conflict between pedestrians and traffic
  • Lack of cycle facilities
  • Lack of facilities for the disabled
  • Disruptive and excessive on-street parking

5. Socio-economic Issues

One of the key aims of the HARP Plan is to regenerate the area in a sustainable manner. In order to do this one must not only physically rejuvenate the area but also stimulate social and economic regeneration. Economically the HARP area west of Capel Street is reliant on fruit and vegetable importing and distribution, constituting 30% of commercial activity whilst retail and merchants comprise 25%. Yet other parts of the area are seriously under-performing as the economic base of small-scale, labour-intensive industry which previously sustained the community has been eroded. This contributed to a 22.7% decline in population in the area in the late 1980s.

6. Tourism

The Plan found that despite its proximity to tourist attractions and routes, the HARP area has failed to develop a significant tourism sector. Reasons for this included a lack of integration into mainstream tourist routes, few ancillary facilities such as hotels, a perception that the area was unsafe and poor standards of the public domain in particular and urban design in general.

7. Conservation

The HARP area contains a wide range of historical buildings and architectural treasure with huge contrasts in character experienced over short distances, from the insular Collins Barracks through the 'open-minded' space of Smithfield to the Georgian splendour of Henrietta Street. This necessitates a range of conservation approaches to be implemented rather than a 'one-size-fits-all' approach. The Harp Plan set out to create a proper balance between conservation and redevelopment, minimising unnecessary conflict by being clear about the objectives of conservation whilst still allowing for positive tensions to arise between the two, thereby adding to local architectural character.

8. Recreation & Culture

The Plan found that the HARP area was isolated from both the conventional and avant-garde cultural life of the city with very few art galleries, no state-sponsored art institutions and precious little public sculpture in the area. Potential was recognised in the plans to convert Collins Barracks into the decorative arts division of the National Museum, the amenity value of the Smithfield marketplace and innovative Ormond Multimedia Centre on Ormond Quay. The Plan also recognised the central importance of community-based expression and realised that any future cultural innovation must consider the integration with the local community.

9. Residential

Until the early 1990s, residential development within the HARP area focused entirely on the provision of social housing. The early 1990s saw a flurry of construction activity triggered by tax incentives, mainly confined to the provision of new private apartments, leading to a 47% increase in the population between 1991-1995. This has led to a significant demographic shift as the new residents are highly mobile, single professionals. Their transience, added to the insular nature of the new developments and the lack of diversity in household types ensured that there was little socio-economic impact on the existing, settled community amongst whom long-term umemployment, lack of education and single parenthood are commonplace.

The Story so far

The HARP has experienced much change since the adoption of the Framework Plan in the 1990s. Enormous amounts of EU, state and private funds have been injected into the area creating both physical/environmental and socio-economic/community benefits, yet there exists a downside with major disappointments also.

Physical/Environmental Benefits:

  • The refurbishment of parks and open spaces from Halston St./Green St. Park in 1996 through Ormond Square in 1998 to Wolfe Tone Park (Boyd Cody Architects) in 2001.
  • Various Conservation Initiatives rescued places like Coleraine House, Henrietta Street and the Fruit Market from further decline.
  • Improvements to the public domain and infrastructure such as the refurbishment of Henry St./Mary St. and the renovation of the Ha'penny Bridge.
  • Residential flat complexes such as O'Devaney Gardens and St. Michan's House have been physically improved.
  • Flagship projects such as the Liffey Boardwalk and the Millenium Bridge have improved ease of access and levels of pedestrian mobility in the area
  • Smithfield Plaza was regenerated with a significant amount of residential and commercial development surrounding it – Smithfield Village to the east and Smithfield Market to the west.
  • Collins Barracks was converted into The National Museum of Decorative Arts

Socio-economic/Community Benefits:

  • Jobs initiatives such as the HARP Jobs Club and the Inner City Employment Services (ICES) have helped place a considerable number of local people in new jobs in the area.
  • Enterprise units have been provided in Oxmantown Lane (light engineering units) and the new phase of housing in Marmion Court.
  • A new Community Resource Building, the MACRO Centre, has been specially designed and constructed on North King Street to house a range of local community services.
  • Access to training and education has improved a certain amount with the LSB college offering scholarships to locals and a construction skills course being offered by FAS in conjunction with Dublin City Council.
  • In order to qualify for tax incentives each development must contribute to 'community gain' in the form of either social housing, a financial contribution (based on 15% of the site value) or a provision of facilities/opportunities within the development itself.


1. The 'Living Over The Shop' Scheme, although representing an excellent opportunity to free up residential potential existing above retail space in the HARP area, cannot be deemed a success to date.  Despite a Marketing programme pushing Capel Street as the flagship demonstration project of the scheme, it has failed to make a significant impact.

2. Many local representatives have complained of a lack of social integration between settled residents and new comers. This problem is most marked in many private residential developments which are built as 'gated communities' on the pretext of security. This leads to lack of activity and animation which in turn increases calls for even tighter security. This added with the introverted nature of such developments, looking inwards over landscaped gardens further alienates longer-settled locals and creates a 'them and us' culture that mitigates against social integration

3. In solely  architectural terms the rebirth of Smithfield as 'Smithfield Civic Plaza' has been a success. Mc Garry Ní Eanaigh's striking mixture of granite and cobble with the post-industrial declaration of the 26.5 m-high braziers won many awards, doubtless because of the potential it symbolised for this largest civic space in Dublin. But, in broader urban design terms, this potential lies dormant to date,  offering only a lightweight annual programme of events.


Posted by Reflecting City Team on Wednesday, September 17, 2008
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