File photo: Naas
I heard an interesting statistic during the week. There are now more people commuting from elsewhere to Naas to work than are commuting from Naas to work elsewhere.
The consequence of that is perhaps subtle, but significant.
If Naas has more people arriving into it than are leaving it on a daily basis, then it has a responsibilty to itself and to those who commute to it, to make it a comfortable and accessible place to get there, and move around it.
As opposed to a place 30-something kms south west of the city that a bunch of people sleep in when they’re not working.
When you’re in a part of the country that is considered, generally, to be merely part of the commuter belt, the donut of population density around the city, then reversing the ratio in this way is a considerable achievement — and surely something that all commuter belt towns would and should aspire to, I would imagine.
That would probably be a tall order given the decades of development of industrial infrastructure on the Dublin road side of the town — along with, of course, the enormous retail and hospitality and the growing software sectors.
So, is Naas a nice spot to commute to? Is there anything that could be done to make it more attractive, to press on with its advantage?
And is there anything other towns in Kildare could or should be doing to make their town more amenable to attract a greater number of businesses and workers to move to their town?
There is significant evidence that an investment in making it, simply, a more pleasant place, is a safe bet.
To be frank, and not beat around the bush, Naas, and many of our other towns are banjaxed with traffic.
And the problen isn’t that we’re not trying to accommodate motorised vehicles — it’s that we’re trying too hard.
The result is that our towns are now reduced two strips of properties sitting either side of a permanent traffic jam.
It’s noisy, polluting and inefficient. The more we try to accomodate cars, the slower they all get.
And the more we do so, the less we acccomodate the people of our towns.
A Danish urban design landscape architect, Birgitte Nagel Larsen, and who lives and works in Kildare, took a good look at both Naas and Newbridge, and noted that while the Whitewater Shopping Centre catered for many of our modern desires — retail, entertainment and food, the main street of Newbridge was “blighted by cars” which only strengthened the allure of never leaving the shopping centre.
“I wonder what would happen if we gave the same amount of attention to people’s happiness in the streets of our towns as inside our shopping centres?” she said.
She suggest we make them ‘people-friendly’ instead of ‘car-friendly’.
It also speaks to another common problem with larger Irish towns, where the population is pushed out of the town centre and into large housing estates.
To a degree, the housing estates are necessary, but pushing people out of the town centre is not, and only serves to deaden the place and reduce the choice of living accomodation available to people.
It also serves to let local authorities off the hook when it comes to making our town centres attractive to people, and increases car usage.