As I See It: Catherine Drea’s fortnightly column as published in the Waterford News & Star
I WAS straining at the leash to respond to the Chamber of Commerce and the Council’s call for ideas on the future branding of Waterford. Unfortunately I didn’t get to contribute, as I ended up in hospital last week. So, to whom it concerns, please accept this column as my two and fourpence worth.
Let’s start with ourselves. Branding shouldn’t just be about putting a message out there, à la the Tory Party who have a slogan for every eventuality. It should be much more about looking at the people who live here, our own needs and our long term future. If we build the best future for ourselves first, then they will come. If it’s good for us it will be good for commerce too.
‘The ancient name for Waterford was once Cuan na Grian, Haven of the Sun.’
Now the most important building project should be brilliantly designed housing, but for this piece I’m going to concentrate on something else we are all rediscovering as a result of this lockdown, our relationship to nature.
We are craving the outdoors. I’ve never seen so many people walking, observing wildlife, birdsong and blue skies. As things are probably going to remain very different from our previous lives, we can now take time to enhance our environment to bring us even closer to nature and improve everyone’s quality of life. By doing so we will also get ahead of future targets which we will have to meet anyway to save the planet.
We have the most incredible scenery, beauty, beaches, history, food culture and the arts. But for the smallest amount of spending possible, Waterford could be transformed into a meandering eco community garden. We could really get ahead if we declared the City and the County the greenest, cleanest and sunniest place in Ireland and began an ambitious rewilding project.
The ancient name for Waterford was once Cuan na Grian, Haven of the Sun. Now we are also a haven of the lowest Covid 19 cases in the country! We could become a beacon of health and wellbeing, if we made much bolder and greener decisions now.
We can build on everything we already do well; Waterford Walls bringing artists and colour to the City, street festivals of the arts, food, music and community, historic museums and gardens to visit, exciting new outdoor spaces to gather, the Greenway, family friendly Waterford people creating local events all over the County, the GIY Centre and Ballybeg Community Gardens.
What has happened in Tramore and with the Greenway are good examples of how we are changing. I was sitting outside the Mollie’s Cafe one day when the man beside me, from Clonmel, struck up a conversation. “My Father would be turning in his grave if he saw me spending two hours drinking coffee,” he said. “He would have died laughing.”
Because winter or summer, due to the improvement in social spaces, a much wider group of people come to walk, to sit and chat, to hang out on the Prom. Coffee and daily meetups have transformed into a destination for all seasons. Sunday morning when Waterford City is virtually empty, Tramore is thronged with people of every age.
But for all the other days of the year, and as a backdrop to our lives, we could plant thousands of native trees, bulbs, seeds, fruit, wildflowers and make community gardens a key part of enhancing our lived environment. Imagine artists, architects, designers, growers and business communities working together to develop a wide reaching plan to engage all of us in growing.
From inner city street gardens to rural hedgerow replanting, over a few short years, we could create something quite unique. This would be low cost, high involvement of local volunteers and the wider community, it would enhance the beauty of the county and replace Tidy Towns with Green and Vibrant Towns.
I’ve seen this in action all over the world. In Berlin for example, there are over one million trees including, Unter den Linden, famous for its rows of Lime trees. Or how about the Japanese cherry blossom season; a celebration of beauty and nature which attracts people from all over the world?
But it is the planting in the inner city of New York on the disused Highline train tracks that really catches the imagination. Wild flowers, trees, sunflowers, vegetables are grown anywhere there is a spot. It can be done. It lifts spirits and brings communities together. Now no one visits NYC without a walk on the Highline.
A greener approach to everything will very soon become the norm. Trinity College has already decided to turn the manicured lawns into wildflower meadows. So this is no time for pussy footing around. Waterford should get ahead of the posse and later on be recognised as the greenest, cleanest, proudest place in Ireland. Cuan na Grian once more!
Catherine Drea blogs at Foxglovelane.com