For commerce to thrive, we need to build communities, not just dormitories
What would you do if you were an urban planner faced with the question of how to manage a growing urban population. Faced with ongoing growth and demand for housing and office space, you really have two choices –allow construction companies to build up, or insist they build out.
In Ireland’s case and in particular in Dublin’s case, for better or worse our urban planners settled on the building out strategy. In a bid to protect the character of Dublin city, they chose to preserve the city’s skyline and insist instead on the creation of dormitory towns reaching every further out from the capital city.
For people living and working in Dublin this has meant ever longer commutes and soaring house prices in the capital. Rents in Dublin have climbed steadily in the five years between 2013 and 2018 and according to the Mercer Cost of Living Report for 2019, Dublin now ranks as the most expensive city in the Eurozone.
The Dublin Economic Monitor said in August 2019 that rents in Dublin City alone had increased to an average of €1,650 while outside the greater Dublin area, residential rents are reported to average at €850. In 2018, childcare costs in the same area were reported at an average cost of €1,047, €300 above the national average.
The story around the country isn’t much better. Looking at anonymised data from its customers, Vodafone has been able to able to show that more than 22,000 people travel to and from Dublin each day from Kilkenny, Carlow and Wexford. A further 43,000 commute into Cork City each day.
So what is the solution to this problem? While there isn’t one single remedy to these problems, there’s no doubt that encouraging more companies to offer flexible working conditions, staggered hours and remote access has the potential to alleviate some of the challenges people face.
With that in mind in 2017, Vodafone and SIRO – a joint venture with the ESB – set up the first of 15 Gigabit Hubs that are now located around the country. The idea was to provide world class connectivity outside the cities, making it available to start-ups, entrepreneurs and companies dedicated to providing employment in less well served areas of the country.
At the heart of this concept is the idea of Smart Working, the combined use of technology with flexibility to allow employees to work from home, from one of these hubs or using a hybrid model (part-home, part-office).
For companies, the benefits include lower operating costs, access to people who would otherwise be difficult to reach and employ, increased productivity and the competitive benefit of being able to offer people a better work life balance.
This in turn offers the potential to help restore real community spirit to outlaying dormitory towns, by allowing the people who live there to spend less time sitting in cars and on public transport and more time taking an active part in their own communities.
“Gigabit connectivity is fundamental to enabling smart working. It is playing a transformative role in businesses and the lives of many employees as it becomes available in more locations, not just our major urban centres said Regina Moran, enterprise director for Vodafone Ireland.
“In creating opportunities for local business development – this connectivity can support the migration of high-value businesses and jobs to any location in Ireland. It can act as a stimulus for regional towns and villages while relieving pressure on urban areas in the short-term.”