Empowering community-led green urban development

  • 23 January 2023
  • Dr Alma Clavin, Associate Professor Gerald Mills, Professor Niamh Moore-Cherry
  • Academic, Educational, Environmental, Political, Social


The Mapping Green Dublin research project has brought together a range of stakeholders – including academics, artists, local residents, and place-based community organisations – to ensure that strategies for developing urban environments meet the needs of local communities.

The team and collaborators worked to identify greenspace deficits and develop a “community greening strategy”. Importantly, this collaboration has empowered various stakeholders (through access to an evidence base and new skills) to proactively engage on a more equal basis with policymakers and practitioners. This has directly facilitated local community action, exemplified by the development of the award-winning Turvey Park. The D8 Green Bridge Forum, which arose from the research, has successfully argued for the inclusion of “micro green areas” as part of Dublin City’s proposed Green Infrastructure Strategy, and continues to meet regularly.

These collaborations are building new relationships of trust between local communities and Dublin City Council, and ensuring that our urban environments contribute to the health, wellbeing and resilience of those who live in them.

Research description

Well-designed and maintained green urban spaces play a crucial role in community health, wellbeing and resilience. Evidence shows that access to nature reduces stress, improves sleep, promotes social interaction, and can have a positive effect on mental wellbeing. Greenspaces also protect our physical health by absorbing pollutants, and they help maintain biodiversity. Such spaces are a key component of city “green infrastructure” strategies.

However, in a developer-led planning system, greening or green infrastructure strategies are often an after-thought, and local communities are rarely invited to co-create plans that directly affect them. Often, they are simply “consulted” when decisions have already been made. By bringing together new combinations of stakeholders – including academics, artists and place-based community organisations – communities can gain access to science and become empowered to engage with decision-makers from the beginning, ensuring development strategies respond to community needs.

Mapping Green Dublin (MGD) was a collaborative action research project led by UCD’s School of Geography, in collaboration with arts organisation Common Ground, artist Seoidín O’Sullivan and event facilitators Connect the Dots. It was based in Dublin 8 from 2019 to 2021 and funded by the Environmental Protection Agency. The team worked with local residents and other stakeholders to identify their greening needs and co-create a community greening strategy.

The research began with a series of focus groups to map the trees and greenspaces across Dublin City, with a particular focus on Dublin 8. This identified greenspace assets, deficits and potential greening needs. The team then entered a co-creation phase, working with different stakeholders – through focus groups, a community launch event, an urban prototyping workshop, and a new neighbourhood greening forum – to develop ideas for greening projects and actions. In the final phase, the team delivered these ideas in a community greening strategy, engaged with key policymakers, helped implement some small greening projects in the area, and coordinated a community greening forum. These interventions respond to neighbourhood needs, have high social and cultural value within the community, and maximise opportunities for urban wellbeing.

The community impact and value of this project will undoubtedly live on and continue to generate positive momentum for people, their wellbeing, place and the urban environment as recommendations crystallise into more action and other offshoot projects develop organically over time.

— Brian Beckett, Director of Inland Fisheries Ireland

Research team and collaborators

  • Associate Professor Gerald Mills, Principal Investigator and lead on Phase 1, building the evidence-base. Generated the data and maps required for the project, and responding to community data requests.
  • Professor Niamh Moore-Cherry, Co-investigator and project lead on Phase 2 co-creation. Designed the initial community engagement strategy, and engaged with policymakers and other practitioners.
  • Dr Alma Clavin, Postdoctoral Researcher. Led the community engagement in practice, was embedded with the community partner, and produced the draft actions and recommendations in strategy.
  • Siobhan Geoghegan, Common Ground arts organization. Locally embedded community partner critical to gaining access to community participants and other local stakeholders.
  • Seoidin O’Sullivan, independent artist. Developed arts-based approaches to engage communities.
  • Connect the Dots, Social enterprise. Community launch event facilitators and advisors.



  • The initial two-year project was funded by the Environmental Protection Agency Research Call.
  • Impact activities have been funded through volunteered time but also through IRC New Foundations.
  • The D8 Green Bridge activities are being funded by BAM construction and Ecclesiastical Insurance (through Common Ground) to further develop the projects detailed in the community strategy.

Research impact

Through ongoing engagement, data generated from the MGD project and the community-led strategy is effecting meaningful change in Dublin 8 and across the city more widely. The impact is threefold:

Enabling community-led policy change

With the support of Common Ground, the D8 Green Bridge forum – initially the community greening forum established during the project – has been placed on a permanent footing. This emerged directly from the recommendations of Mapping Green Dublin and is funded through businesses in the area.

Drawing on the MGD strategy, the forum recently submitted comments on the draft City Development Plan, proposing new “green micro zonings” — small-scale measures that can significantly enhance people’s experiences of greenspace within neighbourhoods. Councillor Tina McVeigh and the Robert Emmet Community Development Project also used the team’s evidence base to inform their own submissions. These recommendations were accepted, and the new draft plan now proposes “to prepare a Green Infrastructure Strategy for Dublin City that will include a newly developed set of green micro areas”. This policy shift will have significant positive impact on quality of life and wellbeing for inner-city neighbourhoods currently experiencing greenspace deficits.

(Adjacent image courtesy of Pocket Forests.)

Demonstrating the power of citizen engagement

The D8 Green Bridge forum actively supports access to and development of quality public green and blue spaces. Current projects include improving access to the Grand Canal Tow Path; advocating for enhanced greenspace in proposals for new public housing at Emmet Road and Dolphin House; and developing social and cultural initiatives in Turvey Park. Turvey Park itself is a vital greenspace that was developed through engagement between the MGD team and the community. In 2021, the project won an Urban Land Institute Excellence in Placemaking Award.

These projects – which will have significant impacts on health, wellbeing and the environment – demonstrate the tangible benefits of community-led development.

The team’s approach to citizen engagement was recognised as exemplary in a symposium and White Paper by the Royal Irish Academy on the importance of knowledge co-production to facilitate the transition to a more sustainable society. Similarly, a report by the European Environment Agency identified MGD as an example of how the participation of vulnerable groups in greenspace planning can support social inclusion and foster trust.

More recently, the National Economic and Social Council put out a tender for research on place-based opportunities to support a “just transition” (moving towards a low-carbon society without exacerbating or creating new forms of poverty or inequality). The tender specifically required a co-design approach. The MGD team were awarded the tender and have used their innovative approach in Kilbeggan, Inishowen and Leitrim to help local communities articulate pathways to a more just transition.

Empowering civil society through environmental education and action

Building on MGD, the team partnered with the Robert Emmet Community Development Project on an initiative called Urban Grit, funded by the IRC. The Robert Emmet Community Development Project works with 17 local organisations to ensure that communities understand and have access to decision-making mechanisms. The Urban Grit project, through GIS and sensory workshops, enabled community members in Dublin 8 to develop skills in technical mapping and articulate their greening needs, so that they can contribute to decision-making around the regeneration of local authority estates in the area.

Another example of MGD’s wider impact can be seen in the Civic Dollars app developed through the Digital Hub, a cluster of technology and digital media companies established in the Liberties area by the Irish Government in 2003. People earn “dollars” by visiting places in the area (including MGD’s Turvey Park), which they can then donate to local organisations. Common Ground is registered as one of the recipient charities, benefitting from donations when people visit Turvey Park.

“The community impact and value of this project will undoubtedly live on and continue to generate positive momentum for people, their wellbeing, place and the urban environment as recommendations crystallise into more action and other offshoot projects develop organically over time.”
— Brian Beckett, Director of Inland Fisheries Ireland


"Our involvement with Mapping Green Dublin was hugely valuable. Not only did it enable us to profile our broader portfolio of work with local communities and artists, it also informed us on different research methods including a really structured and flexible interdisciplinary exchange of information. This all took place during really difficult times during the pandemic. Being a part of the MGD project opened other doors for us including accessing new funding streams. It allowed us to show researchers how partnering with an arts organisation lets you take experimental risks to do things differently, to do things creatively."
—Siobhán Geoghegan, Director, Common Ground

Project website

Academic publication and policy report

Strategy document and toolkit (for public use, open access)

Public and policy engagement