The second annual conference on contemporary urban development took place in Galway recently. 

'Planning, Designing and Delivering the 21st Century Neighbourhood' was a joint initiative of the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland (RIAI), the Academy of Urbanism, Galway City Council and the Greater Galway Forum.

Unique challenges

The 2024 conference sought to identify innovative ideas and strategies to tackle the unique challenges facing Irish and European cities, with a special focus on Galway. It highlighted the urgent need for radical reforms in current planning, design, and delivery systems to ensure the survival and prosperity of Irish and European cities and towns in the coming decades.

An inclusive and diverse forum, the conference welcomed the voices of community activists, young people, local residents, representatives, policy makers, architects, planners, urban designers, engineers, and developers.

Sean Mahon, president of the RIAI said: "Architects play a crucial leadership role in urban design and the regeneration of our communities, as many of the featured projects at this conference demonstrate. The RIAI has long advocated for vision-led and plan-led development in our cities. To achieve this, we need meaningful dialogue between local authorities, professionals, and communities.

"For Dublin and Ireland’s larger cities, we need to embrace 3D planning. 3D planning will empower local authorities, planners, urban designers, architects, and communities to create a comprehensive digital twin of the city. Such a tool will ensure that all future development can be fully understood and evaluated.”

Potential solutions

Leonard Cleary, chief executive of Galway City Council, said the conference was "a welcome opportunity for Galway city to explore potential solutions for common European problems, as low density urban sprawl and unaffordable housing have become universal challenges for urban areas.

"Since the 1940s Galway City’s population has increased from 20,000 people to 80,000 people (a factor of four) but the footprint of the city is 24 times the bigger than it was in 1940. That means we are occupying six times more space than the Galwegians of the 1940s".

He added that it was "a significant opportunity for Galway city to be at the centre of discussions on climate, sustainable transport, and affordable housing, and it creates an opportunity to examine how plan-led, community-led development could deliver the Galway City Development Plan".

Prof Ciarán Ó h’Ogartaigh, chair of Greater Galway Forum and University of Galway president, said: “Research is at the core of teaching and learning at University of Galway, where we have a strong commitment to being of, and for, our city. Along with our focus on working for the public good, we place a high value on the open exchange of ideas, of new ways of thinking, and of making a difference for society.

"As chair of the Greater Galway Forum and as president of University of Galway where we have a wealth of research in this area including in the linkages between place, health, and happiness, we see immense opportunities in bringing communities, leadership and expert voices together to rediscover our ambitions for our city and region.”