Monday, September 20, 2010

Dublin Dereliction Duty: Newmarket Potatoes

Newmarket, Dublin

No dereliction duty would be complete without a drive-by of a run-down, crumbling, desolate old warehouse whose only sign of industry appears to have been painted in or around the time of the invention of sliced bread (1928, for those keeping track. Thanks, Otto Frederick Rohwedder!).

The fading Newmarket Potatoes sign in Dublin is one of my favorites, and in fact I feel such affection for the rotting old thing that I hesitated to even post it. Could I manage to do verbal justice to a relic whose only easily catalogued positive trait is that it's "old" and "kinda creepy"? Could I put into words the haunted yet familiar feeling I had when first happening upon deserted Newmarket on a bicycle late one evening, able to make out only the faintest shadow of an already faint sign? Is it in any way healthy that I've spent the last hour pondering this? No. It's rather unhealthy, actually. Now then, I'm going to pour myself a glass of red wine and kick my feet up and we'll call it a draw. This dereliction duty is harder than it looks. At least with numbers I knew what I had lined up next.

Ghost signs. Fading advertisements. They're well-documented enough to have their own fan.clubs. There's a whole manifesto wrapped up in my fascination with the derelict and downtrodden (see Hugh Pearman), but there's also something intensely personal about it. When I see an old sign, my mind slows down. I like to take the time to notice things that are so easily glossed over in this ├╝ber-glossy age. It's a waste of brain cells, yes, but a pleasant one. Who painted the sign? How long has it been there? And how long will it be before the sign disappears completely -- either by a long, slow weathering or by a sudden, violent demolition?

The state of a sign often can tell us a lot about the state of the space around it. In this case, a forgotten, desolate sign in fact exists in a forgotten, desolate square. I was interested (and in that selfish "but I discovered it!" way, almost horrified) to find this re-imagining of the Newmarket area of Dublin: "Animating Newmarket Square in Dublin," from the spatial planning Inspiring Cities project. It reminded me of how New York City's High Line linear park -- once an abandoned railway line -- came to be. First, the vision. Then, the plan. Then, the money. And oh yes, if we're lucky (or unlucky, depending on your point of view) -- the manifestation.

Of course it makes sense to do something with an abandoned urban space. Not all can be left to decay. But sometimes I like the thought of simply imagining it, then going back to the bustle of our usual city centers, leaving the outskirts untouched. There's something rich in that sense of possibility. A charm to the unbuilt.

That said, some of the ideas in the Inspiring Cities report were pretty, well, inspiring. Personally, I'm partial to the report's Idea #3: Temporarily Breeding Artists. But then again, I've got ulterior motives.

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