Long before the coronavirus turned Dublin into a lifeless void, with nothing but a few used latex gloves and face masks littering its once lively streets, it had lost its soul.
“But you could get craft beer and pulled avocado toast,” you say? “It was buzzing.” Did pop-up restaurants and transient tech workers who paid €3,000 a month for a two-bed in Ringsend not turn it into a great cosmopolitan hub? No, they just turned our fair city into San Fran lite, inclusive of homeless people in doorways.
Then Covid-19 sucked the last vestiges of spirit out of its now lifeless façades.
But pockets are awakening as adults on electric scooters appear out of the woodwork alongside throngs of cyclists. Boarded up pubs and restaurants open hatches to sell take-out coffee or food. There may be life, but not as we know it.
When everything is on pause, you expect it to come back as before, but with Bewley’s closing and just 330 of the city’s 750 pubs opening as restaurants in June, two-metre social distance guidelines will mean some of the country’s most famous watering holes may be closed forever.
I recall when the Leeson Lounge closed late last year, its devastated patrons had a last night. There was music and dance. It was the end of an era for the premises, which featured in Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’.
But now, dedicated drinkers across the city won’t get a goodbye. People keep comparing Dublin now to 1980s Dublin, but then we had the Eurovision, the millennium, pubs, characters, artists, the beginning of a dance music revolution. It was a city on the cusp.
But now, we haven’t ‘Covided’ well. There are no DJs playing ‘Rhythm of the Night’ by Corona from their balconies like in Rome. There’s no chorus of heartfelt, palpable claps for the health service, like in London. There are no drive-through raves or social-distanced parties, like in Berlin, or restaurant tables spread across market squares like in Vilnius.
Every self-respecting European city has convenient public and communal services. In Zurich, along the shores of Lake Zurich, there are barbecue pits, self-cleaning toilets, tables and benches, somewhere you can sit socially distanced all night long. We don’t have facilities in our city or along our beaches for free use, because a small portion of people would ruin them with litter, anti-social behaviour and disrespect.
A lethal combination of contempt for public property, lack of innovation, greed and safetyism has made our city lethargic.
“We don’t have the weather,” people will say – but they don’t have the weather in lots of places. We’ve been carried by the ‘Book of Kells’, the Guinness Storehouse, overpriced novelty pubs and a passionless, idealess youth movement, which has depended on the internet, PC culture and identity politics for too long.
But maybe Covid-19 can change our capital city. We might be gaslighted into thinking everything has to be the same as it was before, but we have just been schooled in the power of scale. By staying at home and watching Netflix, we’ve collectively created fresher air to breathe, reduced traffic and CO2 emissions while saving thousands of lives.
We can create a new chapter that is greener and more pedestrianised. We can insist on a cultural revolution with opportunities to reinvigorate the city. Why not paint grey walls, plant more trees, create new art and clean up the city? We have endless unemployed people looking for things to do. Ingenious community-lead, government-backed initiatives must be on the cards. Why not copy, create new recycling opportunities, involve everyone, and reward respect for public spaces?
Rents fell last month. We need the creators and artists coming back. Rents will hopefully drop more, making Dublin less decadent and dull, forcing it to reinvent itself. It’s an empty canvas now, and how we paint it depends on how we open up deeply ingrained mindsets.
I don’t want to come across all American, but the ‘Great Pause’ is over, what happens when we press play is up to us and it’s exciting.Original article in Irish Independent here