I keep harping on and on about this, but it’s something I can’t let go too easily! Depending on how events transpire, we may (or may not) be at a turning point in Limerick’s history.
The president of Limerick Chamber of Commerce wrote this piece (click the link below) about the Opera Centre (we really have to drop that name!!) and the following is my response.
I would be broadly in agreement with a lot of the above. It’s encouraging to see well thought out and intelligent ideas as to how the site might be used being articulated. Let’s hope they are listened to.
A few general points, which are nevertheless very important,
The challenge to both Limerick City and the Midwest Region, is one of demographics. Here, in the Midwest, We have a significant population widely dispersed over a large region, with, in relative terms, a poorly populated urban core. In fact, the dispersal of the population is such that the vast majority of the inhabitants of the Midwest don’t actually live within or even near what is supposed to be its economic urban centre. In Western Europe at least, this is a fairly unique situation, and not a very good one if we want the Midwest to thrive, let alone Limerick City itself.
Given this situation, it can come as no surprise that the suburban retail parks on the outskirts of the city flourish while the city continues to struggle economically.
There is much talk about attracting people from the wider Midwest region into the city centre to spend their money, but no matter how much we try and facilitate this, the reality is that most of these people (and they represent the vast majority of the inhabitants of the Midwest) will choose either to spend their money locally in the towns and villages where they live, or if they do travel towards the city on occasion, they will opt for the out of town retail parks for reasons of convenience more often than not.
If we wish to see the city thrive again (and the wider region too), we must acknowledge this demographic reality, and then seek to change it. How we do that is a matter for discussion, and even when the cultural and infrastructural barriers are overcome, it will still take a long time before we see the positive economic and social results.
One very effective approach to the problem would to be do whatever we can to make Limerick City an attractive place to live in (i.e. the carrot rather than the stick approach). If we make the city a more attractive place to live in, and bring about a change in its core demographic by doing so (both to the population numbers and to the make-up of that population) then the city will start to thrive again. Indeed, cities anywhere thrive, for the most part, because people live in them. It will take time, but we must start somewhere.
With that in mind, the Opera Centre presents a massive opportunity for Limerick and the Midwest region. It is an opportunity to make the city an attractive place to live, and that is very significant. If we keep this in mind when we think about and then make decisions as to how to develop the site, and if we aim high, we will all see the benefits. We could find ourselves living in a radically different and prosperous city at the heart of an equally prosperous Midwest region in years to come.