Saša Novak Uí Chonchúir

Green Party Councillor for Limerick City North

Candidate in Local Elections on 7th June

Choices.

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I call three places my home, Ljutomer, where I grew up, Ljubljana, where I went to college, and Limerick, where life and love brought me. I love them all equally. I see their advantages and I see their potential. 

Ljutomer is a small town of about 3500 people. I was able, from a very young age, to roam around freely and get everywhere on foot or by bike. The only time anyone was ever driven to school (700 pupils) was if they had a broken limb (arms didn’t count). Ljutomer gave me the opportunity to develop my independence. 

Ljutomer is about 170km from Ljubljana, which is a little less than the distance between Dublin and Limerick. I got there by train every week. The train journey takes about 3 hours. I lived in Ljubljana for 4 years and I used the bus and my old childhood bike to get around. The city was great then, it has improved substantially since.

Onwards to Limerick, my home. It saddens me that I cannot give to my kids what I had growing up – a childhood of freedom and independence building. It frustrates me that I cannot let them walk around freely on footpaths and count on them being safe. It terrifies me every time I try to cycle with them to a training session or for a hot chocolate in town. And it angers me that as a society we are fine with these shortcomings. 

You may be asking why this is relevant. It’s relevant because it shows that car dependency is a choice. It shows that you can have roads and rail and cycle lanes and safe footpaths all at the same time but you need to get the balance right. And that is a choice. It’s relevant because my family in Slovenia was relatively poor, but we never had a wall around us, and social, educational and economic barriers were not enforced by hiding challenges behind a wall. That too, I believe, is a choice.

Finally, it is relevant because in Limerick I got the opportunity to make a difference. Here I got a mandate as a Green Party representative to consider and challenge the proposals that are put in front of me, be it housing, transport, environment or economic development. I mention these areas not only because they are four of the main areas that the local authority has control over, but mainly because I believe these areas are inextricably linked. And at the heart of them are the people. 

Most of us agree on that but some fail to consider the balance. 

Poor transport planning comes from, among other things, focusing on and prioritising traffic flow over the movement of people and we need to change that. The focus needs to be on people, on their health, their wellbeing and economic stability.

Poor transport planning interventions lead to poor spatial planning, which results in sprawl and car dependency. This is compounded by poor investment in public transport and active travel infrastructure. 

It means we build roads and then houses too far away from the shops, schools, sports facilities and health centres. It means that we have to drive our kids to school, to music practice and to sports training. It means that we consider 1500 preventable annual deaths due to air pollution acceptable and unavoidable. It means that the buses are stuck in the same traffic as cars and there’s no benefit to using public transport. And at some point it means that we glorify car ownership, with the burden of loans, maintenance, insurance and tax costs, as a sign of success and prosperity.

These are all choices. 

Governments and local authorities choose to develop on greenfield sites over brownfield sites, they choose to invest more into roads than into public transport, they choose to build low density developments on the edges of cities instead of high density housing close to public transport nodes. They choose to allow cars to be parked on footpaths and cycleways instead of making them safe for those who can choose to use them over driving.

And I choose to call them out on it, ask them to review the projects and make them better for the local communities, the cities and the regions around them – for the benefit of all.

3 responses to “Choices.”

  1. Excellent and well thought article Sasa.if only we had more progressive thinking politicians like yourself we would all benefit.keep up the good work.
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  2. Super blog post.. Made me stop and think. Hope more people open their eyes to these possibilities Sasa.