A new movement has begun to "transform" Cork city into a better place for its residents and visitors. It's a movement without a leader. Already, two cafés, two marketing companies, publicans, journalists, start-up businesses and unemployed people have pledged their support. It's called Transform Cork and it's open to everyone keen to improve the city. There's no committee, no budget and nothing but the power of the internet at its service. It's using Twitter, Facebook, blogs and now the Cork News. It seems to have sprung out of nowhere, committed to changing Cork from the bottom-up - rather than the top-down.
The seed was sown by Paul O'Mahony, who moved to Cork in the autumn of 2005 - just as the City of Culture celebrations were ending. After 30 years in UK, he arrived with the excitement of a returned emigrant and soon developed a vested interest in the future of his new home by the Lee.
"Before I moved to Cork I got a big map of Ireland to see what Cork city looked like overall." he told the Cork News. "My first impression was that it looked a bit like Paris: an island in the river with plenty of bridges off it, north and south. As soon as I tried to find my way around, I began asking people 'which side of the island is that?'. It was a bit of a surprise to discover that nobody in Cork thinks of the city as having an island at its heart. That experience was the spark. It got me thinking about the image of Cork city. What’s Cork really like? What are its best and worst features? What is the reputation and potential of Cork city?"
Some would argue that the City Council, the officials and the politicians are responsible for looking after the after the reputation of Cork city. Paul doesn't agree, "The great and the good in Cork have designed the city to be the way it is. The authorities, politicians and established interest groups have done their job. Recently, I went to a valuable public meeting on what Cork might look like in 2030. I was shocked to see a platform full of men in suits. No women, no young people. I thought, how old-fashioned. What would Cork be without its women and young people?"
Paul is a big fan of social networking tools, but he's clear that Transform Cork is not a movement limited to those who have easy access to the internet. "Ordinary face-to-face discussion, debate and dialogue is what it's all about. The most important thing is for people to talk about Cork as if it could be better than it is. I know there are many who want it to be better. There are people outside Cork who also want Cork city improved. We have an opportunity to foster conversation about what people want from the Cork city of the future. The Internet, Twitter, Facebook - these are extra tools to help us connect. Transform Cork is for everyone."
Irish people all over the world - the diaspora - are curious and keen to keep in touch with what's going on here. Via Twitter, Transform Cork has had contact with people in Tokyo, Mexico and the USA about how they see Cork. Essentially, the reputation of a city is the core of its brand. "It's about creating a radical fresh approach to Brand Cork. Re-brand the city - give it a better image. But make change happen in a different, more inclusive way." Transform Cork is a 'citizen rebranding' of Cork. It's a ‘power-to-the-people’ movement. It invites all citizens to add their influence, to make Cork a much more attractive place for everyone.
"I suppose I've become one of the disgruntled," says Paul, "one of those who doesn't think Cork city is good enough yet. I really want it to be a place where things tick well, which feels coherent and connected. I don't want Cork to feel as if it's a bit of a muddle. I want it to have a strong, positive identity that's backed up by the experience you get when you come here. The reputation of Cork isn't under the control of the people of Cork. It's a result of conversations that go on all over the world. The reputation of a city depends on its visitors too, what they say to others later. People who've never been here have a say in the reputation of the city."
Transform Cork is an effort to get people talking, to spark some conversation about the city and its future. It's a new way to think about change, a different way to influence the future of Cork. Here are some of the workable ideas that TransformCork has already heard;
• Give Cork great public transport • Love Shandon - make it look more attractive • Follow the example of Dutch cities, use interactive billboards to fight street violence • Bring new, fun ideas into Cork city from other cities • Love and develop Spike Island • Win Cork city a reputation. Let's be known as "Cork - where people collaborate like mad."
"The usual way of planning a city is by charging a committee with producing a plan, then holding a public consultation on that plan. Transform Cork has a different approach, "It's about the heart and soul of the city. It's about all that makes Cork tick: its people, culture, habits, spirit, economy - everything. Already there are signs people are using the idea of Transform Cork in their face-to-face meetings."
Want to get involved? It's as easy as opening your mouth, "You simply talk about Cork to your friends and contacts." says Paul. "You talk about your ideas on how to improve the city. The more people talk about change the better. The more people who get involved, the better. Outsiders often say Cork is proud of its place, traditions and ways. Certainly, that's a strong and valuable reputation - a good example to others. But sometimes Cork can seem cocky and over-confident about itself. TransformCork stands for a Cork city that feels the need to become better - for ourselves and our visitors."
Interested in joining the conversation? Visit Transformcork.posterous.com or find it on Twitter #transformcork.
Thanks to our friend an co-collaborator Paul O' Mahony from MarketingWriteNow for writing this post. Thanks also to Eoin Mulligan for the great photo of the Cork City Hall. For more of Eoin's brilliant shots of Cork visit his Flickr stream