Monday, April 14, 2003

Blame the Brits

Today's New York Times has an interesting report (reg. req) about a planning dispute between a rich businessman and a recent law on historical preservation of Dublin's dwindling Georgian homes. Most likely for reasons of simplicity, the story offers this standard capsule analysis of why Dublin allowed so much of its fine architecture to be destroyed:

For many years, the Irish only made things worse by allowing the ruthless demolition of buildings that were perceived to be leftovers of British rule.

This is true, while being consistent with the Irish tendency of accepting certain past sins, but only within the framework of being the Most Oppressed People Ever. But there are elements of the story both more specific and more general. The more specific part is the synergy between public apathy and private corruption. Dublin is a small place, and you don't have to look too far into the provenance of some of the worst monstrosities in former historic Dublin to find a usual suspects list of property owners, developers, architects, and politicians. We've mentioned some of this before but rather than focus on the names, take a look at the results. The first two pictures are standard postcard Dublin -- Georgian squares and canal locks. The rest are travesties: they put the block in office block. Built on the cheap, shoddily maintained, ruining the skyline, tacky canopies, even tackier neon. But maybe we shouldn't be too hard on Ireland. Remember this was the era when Penn Station was being demolished. But we can't find much evidence that people sought to blame the Brits for that one.

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