Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Five sunny days in Dublin

Every year, alumni Eisenhower Fellows get together and organize conferences that bring together fellows from all over the world. How lucky am I that the Dublin conference falls right in the middle of my travels in Europe!

Ireland’s Celtic tiger roars again – we’ve all read these headlines. Ireland’s rapid economic growth started in the 1990’s as part of its joining the European Union, and a lot of other important factors coming into alignment. Today, the transformation of one of Europe’s poorest countries to one with a robust and growing economy is an amazing story of transformation. So, I take a break from Germany and am eager to visit the land of the rising Celtic tiger!

I arrive in Dublin tired and grouchy after a long and delayed flight. What should have been an hour’s hop over continental Europe ends up being a seven hour nightmare. I hop into the first cab, eager to get to my hotel without any more adventures. My cab driver is an older gentleman who is just starting his shift. Irish charms prevail, and he has me chatting about my travels, my family and my work in no time. Actually, I have to confess that I’m thrilled to be speaking in English without hand-gestures and furious checking of my handy-dandy translator.

After a month of journeying through Spain and Germany, its great to see familiar faces. I meet staff from Eisenhower Fellowships, meet with alumni Philadelphia Fellows, 2007 USA fellows and the 2007 Multi-Nation Fellows. What we all share in common is our area of interest – urban challenges.

The conference is Dublin is a roaring success. I am inspired by the camaraderie among the Irish fellows organizing the conference. Great food, thoughtful conversations, fabulous entertainment, interesting perspectives on the development of Dublin, visits to new business enterprises and development projects. Some highlights include a visit to the Intel plant in Dublin that is part of the economic regeneration of the city. It’s an impressive workplace generating many higher paying jobs for the region. Another great Irish tradition - a visit to the Guiness Factory and Museum where we enjoyed the views from the towers and enjoyed a great reception and dinner. Amongst the notable guests at the event was the Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern (Yes, I did get a picture with him and will get a copy from the Eisenhower office when I get back). And finally a trip to a nearby castle and the oceanside.

In between the conference program, I had a chance to see Dublin – a bustling and vibrant city filled with loads of young folks. People are really friendly. Every time I consult my map, someone stops to ask if they can help, walks with me to the next destination and offers their perspective on local history, politics and the state of the world. Public spaces are much loved and used, and I was impressed to see how well the spaces are cared for and programmed. St. Stephens Green in the heart of Dublin, goes back to Medieval times. A local lord turned it into public park in the late 19th century. Its presence as part of the street grid is very interesting – the edges are filled with trees and shrubs that create a green envelope for the park. Once you get though this buffer, the park itself is a jewel. Graceful pathways, gorgeous water features, loads of history and amazing horticultural treats fill the park. Merrion Square is the grander public park, surrounded by Georgian homes, museums, upscale restaurants, and offices. one of Dublin's largest and grandest Georgian squares. The attractive central park features colorful flower and shrub beds, and a gorgeous lake in the middle. Much like St. Stephens Green, the park is hidden from its surrounds with thick vegetation, and is a treat to be discovered. Pheonix Park is a larger regional park in close to the city center. Its a beautiful bucolic landscape with rolling hills and expanses of meadows. Graceful tree lines mark the park boundaries. When Pope John Paul visited in the mid 1990's the giant cross was installed in his honor.The rolling meadows give a sense of expanse - its hard to believe that we are a few minutes from the city. We stop here briefly on the way to conference meetings, and I am tempted to get left behind!

The Docklands area is on the east side of the River Liffey in Dublin and has been a part of a massive redevelopment effort led by the Dublin Docklands Development Authority, created in 1997.
Since then the progress has been remarkable, including the relocation of the College of Ireland to a new, high tech ‘campus without walls’. It was great to walk around the area after listening to the city manager of Dublin and the head of the Development Authority paint the bleak picture of what existed before. Very impressive – and a great new connection to the river.
Would you believe, five days in Dublin and not a drop of rain!

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