Cork City - “Healthy Heart” of the Cork Region
City/Region : Cork City , Ireland

Cork City Centre is the Healthy Heart of Cork. Its well being is essential to the wider region. In the post economic crash period, the city’s approach to urban revitalisation lagged behind its European counterparts. Recognising this, a comprehensive study was carried out in 2014 to kick-start transformative actions to revitalise the City Centre in partnership with a wide range of stakeholders. The Cork City Centre “Healthy Heart” Strategy has established partnerships and collaboration to drive a wide range of actions to improve the quality of the city centre for all.

Agendas addressed
Public spaceSocial inclusion and integrationLocal economies and employment
Pathways followed
  • Involve citizens through participatory implementation
  • Encourage local private and civic engagement
  • Create and close local value chains
  • Prepare policies for socio-cultural changes due to innovation

Cork City is formed around an island where the river divides and reconnects, creating a unique urban landscape. As with many places, the city centre was negatively impacted by the global recession with a shrinking business environment and lack of construction activity increasing vacancy and dereliction. In light of this, the Cork City Centre Strategy (2014) set out objectives to revitalise the city centre, through partnership and innovative action plans. The strategy now feeds into “Pure Cork” the Local Economic Community Plan (LECP) 2016-2021 for Cork City. This six year road map for economic and community development for the city involved intense engagement with a wide range of business, community and voluntary organisations, public agencies, social partners and other key stakeholders. The Cork City Development Plan 2015-2021, the city’s land use strategy, also integrates the objectives for the city centre as the healthy heart for the city and wider region.

In Action

In 2015, Cork City Council implemented the four key actions from the Cork City Centre Strategy (2014) to increase partnership and create new actions that deliver positive change in the city centre. Four new groups were formed and have grown to take on the role of implementing, adapting and expanding the aims of the strategy:

1. CORE Partnership:
A partnership approach between Cork stakeholders to deliver a rebalancing of economic activity towards the City Centre. CORE includes members from the local authority, business associations, transport providers, the police force and the retail and hospitality sectors. The partnership helps broker relationships, and support the better organisation and operation of the City Centre. For more information, click here.
2. CCSG - The City Centre Steering Group:
This group is made up of senior management from Cork City Council and focuses on the implementation of the Cork City Centre Strategy (2014) and its annual action plans. The action plans use a neighbourhood approach with the city centre divided into six quarters. A senior manger works in partnership with a city council planner for each quarter.

3. City Centre Forum:
The City Centre Forum is an operational group of CORE and is an important element of the revitalisation process. It has developed practical projects such as Cork Cashes Out and the Purple Flag to progress the city centre.
4.  City Centre Coordinator
One of the key recommendations in the City Centre strategy was the employment of a City Centre Coordinator. This has been implemented for the last two years and this person plays a key role in facilitating much of the partnership; working and building relationships at a city centre wide and local quarter level.

'For the first time, through CORE, we have a strategic group of all stakeholders focusing on the city centre.  The collaborative approach and relationship building is paying real dividends'
- Lawrence Owens, Chief Executive of Cork Business Association

'Our business group has been working in partnership with Cork City Council and other organisations for the last few years to develop our part of the city centre. It has proven a very fruitful process as our area has significantly enhanced its reputation during that time.'
- Arthur Lyttle, Secretary Victorian Quarter Traders Association


The partnership approach inherent in the City Centre “Healthy Heart” Strategy has led to the development of a wide range of actions, such as: 

Cork Conversations: A series of talks that explored the challenges and opportunities for Cork as a European city, culminating in the Academy of Urbanism annual Congress in June 2018.

Mad About Cork & Re-imagine Cork: Collaborative community groups focused on rejuvenating Cork's laneways, urban green spaces and derelict buildings through innovative interventions.  
Feelgood Friday: A partnership approach delivering street events and business initiatives on the last Friday of every month, reinforcing the fun of visiting the heart of the city. For more information, click here.

The Painting Grants Scheme: Annual funding scheme for residents and businesses to invest in building facade upgrades that improve the character of their areas. For more information, click here.

The Long Table Dinner: Part of the annual Cork Midsummer Festival, a collaboration of twelve local restaurants working together to serve 400 dinners on one long table on a city centre street. For more information, click here.

The Purple Flag: An international award for excellence in the evening and night time economy, signifying a vibrant offering with a wide range of entertainment.

City Centre Neighbourhood Survey (2017): A survey of over 1,000 city centre residents on the quality of their living environment, resulting in a series of quality improvements actions


Ireland’s Central Statistics Office (CSO) provides accurate and impartial information relating to Ireland’s people, society and economy. Comparing statistics from 2011 and 2016 illustrates the social and economic changes in Cork City centre during this period:

• Growing Population: the city centre population (15,744 residents) increased by 20%, four times greater than the wider city area.
• Housing vacancy: Rates have decreased by 25% since 2011.
• Labour Force Participation Rate (LFPR): The City Centre LFPR is now notably higher (68.6%) than the wider city (55.2%).
• Diversity: 42% of Cork City Centre’s population was born outside of Ireland,
• Job Growth: There was a 10.2% increase in jobs, with the city centre retaining the highest share relative to other areas.
• New businesses: Over half of all new businesses created since 2011 are located within the City Centre.
• Daytime/Nightime population: Daytime pop is 38% larger than the night time pop.

These statistics point to a renewed public interest in living in, working in, shopping in and spending time in the city centre. Reflecting these positive changes, Cork City Centre is now receiving greater recognition from various sources, including:
- Academy of Urbanism Great Street Award Oliver Plunkett Street (2016)
- FDI Magazine Award
- Tripadvisor
- Lonely Planet Award

The Cork City Centre Partnership approach is also linked into a number of EU city initiatives which are helping to ensure a diverse and inclusive approach to developing city centre actions, including:
• Healthy City Status
• Learning City Status and Learning Neighbourhood initiatives.
• Rainbow City Status (LGBT)
• Smart Cities

Challenges and lessons learned

1. Robust collaborative approaches in partnership with a wide range of stakeholders help achieve a coherency in rejuvenating a city centre

2. Adopting neighbourhood approaches to city centre action planning generates grassroots participation and more realistic, sustainable actions

3. Combining a management steering group and annual action plans helps tackle the “silo effect” associated with large organisations

4. Focusing on neighbourhoods helps increase participation and effective collaboration with a wider range of local stakeholders

5. Flexible plans and actions allow for more innovative actions and adaptive methods for hands-on implementation

6. Observing best practices can help in translating innovative thinking into real actions at a local level



ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability
European Secretariat

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