There seems to be almost unreserved excitement for DIT’s much awaited move to the new Grangegorman campus nestled between the hipster hamlet of Stoneybatter and the working-class stronghold of Phibsboro. In this (hopefully) two part series, we intend to explore the somewhat ignored implications of this move for the city centre, its students and the areas surrounding the new campus.
DIT has 20,000 students and like many technical colleges, has grown up to occupy a large number of different buildings across the city centre over its 125 years. It stretches from Rathmines where the music students yearn for better notes to Portland Row by the North Strand where the fine arts students do whatever fine arts students do. Unsurprisingly though, the main clusters of buildings are located in the city centre with near equal numbers on the north and south side of the river. DIT and its students have always been slightly uncomfortable about the fragmented nature of its college and many will remember the somewhat defensive slogan adopted in the late 2000s of ‘the city is our campus’. A line that occupied many brochures enticing country students and one regularly used as a retort to mouthy UCD students in late bars, but happily mocked internally.
The move to Grangegorman was always seen as necessary by the administration due to the obvious complexities of running a college across over ten different locations. The (very unequal) replication of college services in different buildings means your course location is often luck of the draw on whether you’d have a decent SU social area, medical facilities or decent computer rooms. As well as this, due to the long delayed move; several buildings need much required maintenance and are no longer fit for purpose e.g. the water features of the Bolton Street library in 2010. The internal student culture of the different buildings has also been a point of contention, with those from the smaller ‘campuses’ being much lower on the list of priorities for social events and often having to march to Aungier street for RAG week activities or societies. Considering all this plus the advantages of academic proximity, synergy and a whole host of education buzz words; combining DIT into one campus in an out of city centre location is a good idea. In some respects this is true but as with many things, the world is made up of many shades of grey.
DIT has 20,000 students who all eat rolls, buy coffees, drink pints and add some much need vibrancy to many marginalised areas of the city centre. Due to this, a whole host of businesses have sprouted around each DIT building in a jumble of pubs, cafes, printers and an endless amount of deli’s which probably can’t be sustained without them. While some of the DIT buildings are located in affluent areas which won’t be affected in this way, some such as Bolton Street, Mountjoy Square or Cathal Brugha Street are essentially the only destinations in their respective areas unless if you live locally or are walking through. In the case of Bolton Street; at least 3 pubs, 2 shops, 2 cafes and 2 printers rely almost directly on DIT student trade and are unlikely to survive once the move to Grangegorman occurs. Therefore there is the high possibility that a number of dead spaces will emerge in the city, either transitionally or permanently, which will require some creative planning by DCC to fix. Or more likely, they will become monotonous areas of vacant shop fronts, apartments and cars.
Like many technical colleges in city centres, DIT has a much better range of students when it comes to class backgrounds and circumstances. Unlike the uniform UGG boot brigades of UCD, the student base in your average DIT is more likely to include a higher number of students from rural areas, the local flats or those who are the first in their family to receive a 3rd level education. This environment has always made for a more healthy mix of students where prejudices are challenged, broken down and graduates are likely to be a bit more grown up afterwards. Its also important to remember that universities are intimidating places, especially when very few of your school mates filled out the CAO form and the word ‘pontificate’ has never been used in your local. This barrier is greatly reduced if going to college is just heading into town, doing a module, then breaking out and finding your mates afterwards. Essentially it makes 3rd level education no big deal and the chances of dropping out for social reasons are lower. DIT also has a good reputation for doing outreach through their access program which does talks in inner city schools and assists with the application process. While this is unlikely to end when they move to Grangegorman, the broader social implications are worthy of some consideration.
It was mentioned earlier that the fragmented campus of DIT can be problematic but it can also be a plus. Each DIT building has its own style and is often completely different depending on the courses involved. The positive nature of this diversity is often underestimated and is usually demonstrated through the number of societies and events which cater for the interests of each campus crowd. Combined with this, the broad spread of locations means students who are new to the city can experience Dublin with numerous safe havens to retreat to if it gets a bit hairy. Being non-centralised also means that students don’t have to commute to one location for the library or computer labs and can study more locally. It’s a small point but one you’ll all notice when the cross city buses to the northside are jammers.
Looking forward to when town is a DIT free zone and all students are combined into the Grangegorman massive, a few points can be made. The smaller DIT buildings are likely to turn into language colleges, small education institutes or businesses and while the local areas will change; the impact will be minimal. It becomes more problematic with the larger buildings of Aungier, Kevin, Cathal Brugha and Bolton Street as they are more likely to be knocked and redeveloped as apartment complexes. This would be a loss and hopefully can be avoided through change of use. Kevin Street for instance; with its low-rise design, sports and lab facilities, could easily be turned into a public secondary school for the young families of the surrounding flats and Celtic Tiger era apartments. The Linen Hall complex across the road from the main Bolton Street building is another good example as it is small enough to be converted into a community or sports centre run by the council for the inner city community. Yet regardless of the best case scenario, its inevitable that in the short to medium term, the city centre is likely to become a little less vibrant and the amount of public space across the urban area will decline massively.
Is the lack of conclusion a cop out? Most definitely…
Coming soon: ‘The City Centre Isn’t Our Campus: Big College, Small Area’; We explore the implications of the new DIT campus on the local areas and their long-standing communities.