The weather may be incongruous with outside living right now, but the past 12 months has shown us how having increased and better external space – public realm – is something that can no longer by denied to our town.
It was just before Christmas last year – during those in-between-lockdown days when meeting loved ones was possible.
On a beautifully chilly, but sunny, Sunday morning, I met up with my family for a coffee at the Square. The wide-open expanse of ‘Plaza De Dundalk’ was thronged with people doing something similar (all socially-distanced, of course).
It all felt very continental and, despite the misery of Covid hanging in the air, it was a welcome break from the humdrum of lockdown life.
Across the way, a touring motorcycle/scooter club had parked up their machines and sat chatting over a steaming cup of whatever they were having themselves. The sing-song of voices and laughter filled the open space.
We, my family and I, chatted similarly. We were all wrapped up well against the elements, but, in truth, the relative cold was a distant afterthought as we enjoyed spending time together and indulging a favourite past time of many – people-watching.
In the months following the start of this pandemic, there have been small moves to bring social life outdoors in Dundalk.
The addition of parklets at Crowe Street and Clanbrassil Street add a welcome buzz and sense of life to our town centre.
There are plans to roll-out more, and this should happen with haste, considering the winter months are fast receding (thank God!) and with the days lengthening, and the Summer coming, we should prepare our public realm for as much accommodation possibilities as we can.
The reality is also that Covid is not going anywhere, anytime soon.
The case numbers will reduce over the next number of weeks and months, and the level of restrictions will also ease accordingly.
A ramping-up of the national vaccination programme will eventually defeat this hateful virus; but right now and for the foreseeable, living and socialising outside will be the norm.
Louth County Council should be commended for the tremendous upgrade and rejuvenation works that were just completed before the pandemic descended. Clanbrassil Street is now a shining beacon of what a town’s main street should look like.
A similar effort to renew the Bridge Street area is badly needed now.
Alas, though, the businesses need to return to make any of this worthwhile.
Covid has further choked our already struggling local ‘bricks and mortar’ retail industry.
But, the old saying ‘never waste a crisis’ could not ring truer in this case.
When this pandemic is over people will want to be able to do the things they effortlessly used to do before. The things they took for granted.
The simple pleasure of going ‘up the town’ for a look will be something to savour in the not-too-distant future. It’ll be something to bask in.
We need to ensure our town centre can accommodate this social return.
The foundations are, quite literally in some cases, there to support and realise this potential.
The work of the Dundalk BIDS office in the last number of years has paved (excuse the awful pun) the way for Dundalk to be ready for renewed life and business on our streets.
I don’t know about you, but the convenience of online shopping has already lost its appeal.
There’s only so much passion you can stir up for the delivery of another box of something being left on your doorstep practically every morning.
People want to go shopping again.
People will want to socialise in a safe and inclusive way.
More support and investment in our public realm is now an essential part of town centre planning from here on in. We have gotten used to being outdoors in inclement weather.
Make it slightly more comfortable - the addition of consistent awnings over street side shops, perhaps?
More parklets; more on street amenities - and people will surely take to it.
Covid-19 is not the end of bricks and mortar retail. The end of Covid-19 is the rebirth of our local shops and businesses.
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