The Google Ghetto

July 7, 2010

I'm staying in the South Docklands neighborhood near the River Liffey. The Docklands was a rough area of hardened sailors and dockhands in the 19th century when port traffic such as thousands of cattle walking down the streets, the gasworks, and smell of sewage dumped into the river made it into one of Dublin's worst slums. In the 1980s, the city began a process of revitalization to regenerate the area. Now, the Docklands is a strange amalgamation of older cheap, modest houses and newer chic corporate apartments and urban lofts that have sprung up just south of the river.

In this way it resembles Williamsburg in that the local population keeps getting fractured and displaced as the city builds housing for Dublin's corporate population, recently building the enormous O2 stadium and developing chic restaurants and bars along the waterfront. Maybe it's a bit more like what Williamsburg will be in five or ten years: surrounded on all sides by chic, empty apartments with expensive organic grocery stores and a built-up water front where the bands of the moment come to capture everyone's attention for an evening. Google's offices are here, as well as Facebook's, but there's an unsettling emptiness to the place, a cold sterility that makes it feel soulless and void. The Irish have nicknames for many sites around town and this one, appropriately enough, is "The Google Ghetto".

The apartment itself has the predictable industrial design of cheap metal, glass, and hardwood floors. It's deathly quiet and I don't believe I've passed a single person in the hall since I've been here. At night there are very few people out, but sometimes you see them in their living rooms working on their laptops or watching television as if reflections of your own apartment. In the mornings everyone heads to work purposefully, either walking or on bikes, not speaking or looking very happy. Although this is ostensibly one of the "hippest" areas of the city and one by most standards its residents would be considered "successful," there sure seems to be an absence of smiles on people's faces.

Still, it's within walking distance to City Centre and right next to the DART (the local light rail transit). I've even discovered a couple local bars to go for a pint where the locals, those Irish slowly being squeezed out by the tech boom, seem friendly and full of advice and opinions. There are, of course, good restaurants within walking distance, including an oddly out of place upscale Filipino restaurant.

Behind my apartments is an old gasworks that used to manufacture gas from old coal. The smell was notoriously putrid and these were generally housed in the poorest of neighborhoods. Now, of course, it's been turned into luxury corporate housing, but the architecture resembles Jeremy Bentham's proposed Panopticon. It's quite stunning to look at, despite the fact that I've never seen anyone enter or leave.


A. Jesse Jiryu Davis said...

Hah, reminds me of my Summer of Microsoft when I was a college junior. I lived in a bland white corporate apartment and walked through the ostentatiously native redwoods to MS's bland white campus, and back, every day. Same mix of chic veneer and emptiness.