When ‘Low Rise’ Is Too High



It is with alarm that I read Frank MacDonald’s article about the new definition of “low rise” for the purposes of the draft Dublin City Development Plan.

In any European context, and in particular in an Irish context, the idea that up to 28 metres (nine storeys) could be “low rise” is a serious abuse of language and can only be designed to confuse the average citizen.

The development plan has been called an environmental contract between the city and its citizens and there should be no room for confusion or misinterpretation.

The attempt to dissemble is made worse by the fact that this is not the first time that the description of allowable building heights has been fudged.

In the defunct policy document Maximising the City’s Potential, earlier efforts to increase building heights, without actually clearly defining what that would mean, were rejected.

The unique selling point of Dublin is its scale, with big skies and the sight of the mountains at the end of the road. We can increase density and “maximise” its potential without destroying that quality.

Let us not try to compare ourselves to London and New York but rather to cities of similar population and scale. Above all , let us not pretend that any building up to nine storeys high is “low rise”.

Jane Lanigan,
Dublin 4.


Building heights in Dublin (Irish Times letters)

Pic via Gravity Bar

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58 thoughts on “When ‘Low Rise’ Is Too High

  1. Turgenev

    Franco’s original piece referred to nine areas in the plan where these low-not-low-rises were to be allowed. Can’t find them in the plan. What are they?

  2. Rob_G

    It’s well for Jane that she already lives in Dublin 4; lots of people commute from places like Portlaoise because there is not enough housing stock in Dublin for them. Dublin’s planners need to go up, up, and up again.

    1. Stoolio Iglesias

      True story. Low rise leads to urban sprawl, leads to congestion and commuters coming from the middle of the country as you said. Why not go up?

      1. Jordofthejungle

        The problem though is that we have never really done high density well. It doesn’t appear to be commensurate with high or even average quality of build (or life).

        1. Rob_G

          You’re right, but I think that planners the world over have learned that it’s not a good idea to build a load of tower blocks at the edge of a city with no facilities.

          1. Jordofthejungle

            Look at the new plans for Carrickmines. It has become obvious that what the developer means by “streets” are in fact four-lane roads. The US developer is already lobbying planners that the development is unfeasible should they interfere with the current proposal by narrowing streets, increasing green spaces and/or altering copious car space provision. Given the dearth of accommodation, it is likely planning won’t be too rigorous. Perhaps not an Adamstown in the making but a low quality, transient & uncared for development it is possibly certainly destined to be.

        2. classter

          ‘we have never really done high density well’

          a) This is not true. Urban densities would have been considerably higher in Ireland in the past.

          b) Not having succeeded in the past in no reason not to improve in the future. We were poor in the past. I don;t propose we remain poor forever more.

    2. Jordofthejungle

      I think those who commute from the midlands & so-called “commuter counties” do so rather because of the artificially inflated price premium placed on living inside the M50. Even if more properties come onto the market within a reasonable distance of Central Dublin, you can expect vested interests will ensure pricing will be kept more or less in line with current levels.

      1. Rob_G

        Having people commute for hours in their cars each day has a huge societal and environmental cost.

        “…you can expect vested interests will ensure pricing will be kept more or less in line with current levels”.

        – what does that even mean?

        1. Jordofthejungle

          It means developers don’t want prices to drop to any sustainable level as they want to make a certain minimum profit well beyond EU average. They won’t want to see a two-bed apartment inside the M59 for 200K or a semi-D/duplex for 250K.

        2. Jordofthejungle

          You appear to think lack of supply is the main problem, it is certainly but in Dublin there is also the problem of affordability. Even if more properties come onto the Dublin market, building costs & developer drive for a certain minimum profit level per unit means that the average earner couple will still be pushed out well beyond the M50. While I accept that three bed semi-D’s with a front and back garden may be a thing of the past, a three-bed semi-D in the neighbourhood in which I grew up near the coast in south county Dublin, now has a price tag of 700K. That is insane and unsustainable.

  3. Christopher

    The location says it all. I’ve got mine, why don’t the rest of you buy a 2 story house within 2 kilometres of St Stephens Green?

    9 Stories not NOT a high rise that’s for sure.

    1. Fact Checker

      You can find 2-stories within 100 metres of St Stephen’s Green! https://goo.gl/maps/r6rhg9oKvt82

      As per CSO the small area contains 317 people over 15, of whom 40% were in work. Dublin City as a whole is 51%.

      Stephen’s Green is probably the part of Ireland with the most jobs within a 1-km radius by the way.

          1. Fact Checker

            Some are retired, in education, etc. This is normal.

            However there is a greater-than-average share of those on disability and unemployed.

            Does it make sense (in many cases for the state) to house them in areas where employment is abundant and high paying?

    2. classter

      It needn’t be a zero sum game anyway.

      Viewing ‘corridors’ towards the mountains, the sea, landmarks etc. could be preserved with permission to go higher in between.

  4. jack johnson

    The population in the greater Dublin area is approx. 1.8 million similar to that of greater Copenhagen (1.7m) where 6-8 story residential buildings are very much the norm – you would need to travel a fair distance to stumble upon single unit dwellings but in Dublin they are but a stones throw from the centre. Planning in this country has lead to commutes of 2-4 hours daily for those less fortunate than Jane.

    1. Anomanomanom

      Why are people attacking her for being “fortunate”. I’m in D8 and some of the new buildings 5/6 storey are completely out of place. They’ll ruin dublin. Walking around the area and being able to the dublin mountains is a good thing not a bad thing.

      1. jack johnson

        Pointing out that someone is fortunate not to have a 2-4 hour daily commute hardly constitutes an attack.

      2. Disasta

        4/6 stories are grand just outside the CC.
        In the CC we should be going up to 20-30.

        Planning in this country is atrocious. You can see it in every town and city. Planning dictated by greed.

      3. classter

        There are almost no buildings in D8 which are out of place because they are 5/6 stories high.

        There are some which are out of place because of lazy or pastichey design. These examples should not get planning.

        But not because of the height

      4. Andy

        Welcome to the future hopefully.
        5/6 story buildings are not a problem.
        People’s expectation of views and tons of natural sunlight while living in the city center are the problem.

        Views of Dublin mountains? That’d be the tiny mountains which are actually the Wicklow Mountains creeping into Dublin. Where the highest point inside Dublin is actually a whopping 500m. Where you also get views of the housing developments at their foot in Sandyford/Stepaside where people have to commute into the city from.
        Yeah, I think we can all happily do without those views in order to house more people in the city center.

  5. ivan

    I agree that, in a sense, Low Rise sounds like it probably shouldn’t go above four stories, but it’s a term used by planners to mean something specific and if that doesn’t mean the same to Joe Public, then that’s Joe’s problem; if the term was changed, it still doesn’t take one iota from the need to build upwards.

    As a matter of interest, the bolded bit…did the writer outline how precisely this could be achieved? Apart from encouraging people to live underground, I mean…

    1. Gorev Mahagut

      I disagree. The planning procedures in this country do not enjoy much public confidence, for good reason. And civil authorities often drag themselves into disrepute by using linguistic ambiguity in pursuit of short-term reputational advantage (this is known, ironically, as “public relations”). This erodes public trust.

      The point is not that “Low Rise” is a term of art in planning circles: the point is that the term is being slyly redefined, and that this amounts to dishonesty. You can make a case for taller buildings without undermining language.

      1. ivan

        that’s fair enough.

        I’d still dearly love to hear proposals as to “We can increase density and “maximise” its potential without destroying that quality.”

  6. Clampers Outside!

    “The unique selling point of Dublin is its scale, with big skies and the sight of the mountains at the end of the road”

    Building up, does not effect “scale”, in fact it maintains it rather than having the city becoming a big sprawl, which is the way it is going with huge commuting problems.

    You live in Dublin 4 Jane. Unlike you, I actually LIVE in the city. The bit about “mountains at the end of the road” won’t effect the vast majority who LIVE in the city.

    The letter is complete fuppin’ nonsense from some D4 head who doesn’t live in the city, but is shacked up in a nice suburb. And now, dictating to others to go live some where low rise so the skyline of the city isn’t interrupted.


    1. Spaghetti Hoop

      In fairness, Dublin 4 encompasses the city centre, the South Dock and the leafy suburbs.

      1. The Old Boy

        I’m sure the many ordinary decent people in two-up, two-down terraces in Ringsend and Irishtown resent being lumped in with the braying forehead-chewers of the district’s more salubrious areas. The feeling is undoubtedly mutual.

    2. Anomanomanom

      So why don’t you go live in Dublin 4 if it’s such a great place. I’m in D8 and I totally agree with the letter I love being able to see the mountains while shopping in meath street or walking around the area.

        1. Andyourpointiswhatexactly?

          You could probably get a sconce at ’em down Francis Street. Or would the bend be in the way? I can’t remember.

          1. Andyourpointiswhatexactly?

            ps I’ve lived in both D4 and D8, coz I’m awesome. Loved both. Probably preferred D8 for its fierce handiness, though.

          2. Andyourpointiswhatexactly?

            You can see the hillmountains from Francis St. I looked out on them from my south-facing balcony for years. And that, sirrah, is actual fact.

          3. Clampers Outside!

            What floor is your balcony on… not that it matters, as I believe this lady was speaking about the ground level views as one walks, cycles, drives, etc. through the city.

            if one was to start arguing about the individual views from apartments, nothing would ever be done.

          4. Andyourpointiswhatexactly?

            Erm, I was up on the errrrrrrrrm 4th floor maybe. Yup. Three floors in the building and the apartment was in the attic.

          5. Andyourpointiswhatexactly?

            Aye, that’s true. Having said that, the view of Patrick’s Cathedral and Christchurch both made me happy every day. Beautiful buildings.

        2. AnPilibeenSleibhe

          That links points north? I can see the hills / mountains clearly if you swivel to look south in google street view.

        3. classter

          Clampers, I am actually on the same side of the argument as you but if you do a 180 on your Meath St streetview (so that you;re facing south), you’ll see the mountains in the background (just about)!

          1. Clampers Outside!

            I hear ya, but I’m still not seeing it :)

            And considering that the Google Street View Camera is a good five to eight feet above the roof of a car… I’d doubt it can be seen from street level.

            I’m sure there are tiny pockets of views, but the argument for the most part is simply not true, that one can see “the sight of the mountains at the end of the road”

            maybe if I squint…. :)


          1. Eliot Rosewater

            You can see the outline of them from Meath Street if you’re facing south, visible in the Google Streeview if you turn it around, and was visible when I used to live around there.

            Having said that, my viewpoint would be that hills are nice to see, but sustainability is far, far more important.

      1. Rob_G


        That’s a very selfish view; you enjoy the amenities of living close to the city centre, yet wish to deprive others of enjoying those same amenities.

  7. Fact Checker

    Planning in Ireland is NOT run for greed. If it was we would have lots of high-rise where it is profitable to build it.

    There is some aesthetic/philosophical objection to high rise by Irish planners. This is combined with uncertainty about the application of planning law in many cases. Planning standards are full of ambiguous language meaning application inevitably involves a lot of discretion.

    Combined, it means developers preferring orthodox monoculture on greenfield sites far away from the city centre as they are less likely to be rejected.

    1. classter

      I actually largely agree.

      I think the biggest problem with our planning system is that there is such a strong streak of the following amongst the Irish public:
      1) suspicion of urban areas
      2) a belief that ‘decent’ people should be allowed build wherever they want.
      3) a complete separation of land use & transport planning & no central Dublin political office (like a mayor) which might help to coordinate

      1. Kieran NYC

        + banging my head on my desk

        There also seems to be a suspicion that any tall building will suddenly plunge an area into constant darkness for miles around.

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