The pandemic-induced lockdown was, in every sense, an unexpected shock to people all over planet Earth. We are, by nature, creatures of habit and we do not like system failure of the kind that causes us to forego the habitual.
How strange it was to stroll along Wexford town’s deserted Main Street at the height of lockdown, past shuttered shops, restaurants and pubs. If we are actors on a God-created stage, this play has been more Sam Beckett than John B Keane, one with a sense of isolation, of economic and social detachment, at its core. And as in Wexford, so has it been in every town in Ireland.
Now that lockdown restrictions are easing we are seeing some life returning to our town centres. Sure, there is a sense of urban lethargy there, a slowness to cast off the mantle of sleep. Or, more correctly perhaps, self-induced coma. That is to be expected. We are simply happy to know that we are returning to something approaching normality. It may be what the authorities call the ‘new normal’ but, for now, we will take that.
As we adapt to this recalibrated normal many of us may find ourselves looking at our town centres with fresh eyes. Did our towns always wear this jaded and unloved look? So many charity shops, here-today-gone-tomorrow clothes shops, vape shops and more than a few long-term empty units to let.
The Department of Community and Rural Affairs has just published a Town Centres Living Pilot study which looks at how we might re-imagine our town centres so to adapt to changing living, retail and leisure patterns. Needless to say, the Green Party is happy to see the government acknowledge that only proactive multi-stakeholder efforts will rejuvenate our towns.