EMBRACING creative urban design, community engagement and best practice will help ensure that Ennis emerges from the Covid-19 crisis as an even better town in which to live. That’s according to a new local community group, Better Ennis, which is advocating for “healthy and happy streets”.
The group’s first campaign centres on the allocation of space for people walking and cycling in Ennis. They say the pandemic has highlighted the impact of the public realm on public health and they are aiming to help reimagine Ennis’ public space to ensure that people stay healthy and keep connected. .
Inspired by a number of national and international initiatives during the pandemic, the Better Ennis is looking to Clare County Council to ensure people have safe streets to enjoy while still maintaining physical distancing when moving about the town. This week saw the council implement the first stage of a Mobility Plan for the town, diverting traffic from a number of streets between 7am and 6pm.
The Better Ennis group are submitting an open letter with their recommendations to the council this week, supported by local and national elected representatives, and backed by national organisations such as the Association for Health Promotion Ireland.
Síle Ginnane, a physiotherapist who works in the area of active travel and co-founder of Better Ennis commented, “We welcome the current Mobility Plan that the council has introduced for Ennis town centre. These measures will improve and maintain people’s physical and mental health in the middle of a public health crisis, and will allow people recovering from the virus to have a safe environment in which to do so. We hope that this temporary Mobility Plan will be regularly evaluated, improved and expanded, based on feedback from the business community, from residents, and from community groups in the town.”
She added that with Covid-19 causing respiratory distress, improving air quality is crucial to help those vulnerable to the virus or those recovering. She also stressed the importance of physical exercise, pointing out that the physical environment of towns and cities has an impact on whether people choose to walk or cycle as part of their daily lives.
One of the founding members of Better Ennis is Shane Slattery, Ennis man and secondary school teacher. “In my role as Erasmus+ Project Co-ordinator organising school exchanges, I’ve seen the benefits of proper cycling and walking infrastructure in the Netherlands. There are many health benefits that come from physical activity but having quality infrastructure also empowers teenagers with independence and freedom. We want to make Ennis a flagship healthy town for people of all ages and abilities to enjoy.”
The past two months have seen increased numbers walking and cycling in Ennis, with the group saying this has resulted in greater social interaction and sense of community.
Ailín McAllister, a psychotherapist and founding member of Better Ennis “We want the town centre to provide a space that is social and safe for everyone. This pandemic has highlighted our need as a society, to connect to one another. A town centre that can facilitate that safely for us all is something worth working towards.”
The group emphasises the need for local independent shops to survive in order for our town to thrive and urge local people to support the local economy instead of travelling to shopping centres out of town, or ordering from far afield.
Emer O’Reilly of EBS Ennis, “Filtering day-time, through-traffic from our core town centre streets is very much a welcome initiative by Clare County Council. It is important that we encourage people back into the town, to support local business and we can only do this if people perceive our streets to be safe places to move about with adequate social distancing. In fact, less traffic on our main streets will make the town far more pleasant for everyone.”
Shane Felle, Shannonside Building Supplies adds,“I’ve seen first-hand over the last few months, the need for space in order to successfully run a business in town. The move towards reducing through-traffic on our main streets is important to accommodate people walking safely while maintaining social distancing.”