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Rain boxes making a splash in Stoneybatter

Wouldn’t it be great to let rain water run somewhere besides into an overburdened urban system? A scheme based in the north inner city offers one small-scale solution.

Tucked away on the main street of Stoneybatter, we find Bí-Urban Studios, a nature-based social enterprise and community hub.

“We opened five years ago, and it’s been growing ever since,” says Sadhbh Burt-Fitzgerald, co-director of Bí-Urban Studios. 

“We look at what the community needs and how you can develop nature-based solutions for urban issues,” she says. 

The rain box project the company is running in association with the Local Authorities Water Programme offers a nature-based solution for urban water runoff. The boxes – like a mini-garden attached to a drainpipe – are a relatively hands-off solution to problems of where our urban water goes, and to biodiversity issues too.

“Once you establish the box, there’s not much work that needs to be done in the management of the life of the plants in them,” says Burt-Fitzgerald. 

Rain gardens and boxes are seen world-wide and are popular in many European countries. “That’s the beauty of it! They have been tried and tested in different climates and in different ecosystems,” Burt-Fitzgerald says. “There have been so many different templates of how you can build one. This enables us to do it on a bigger scale.”  

But how do these rain boxes work and what do they look like?  

Attached to a bottom of a drainpipe, they allow water to filter through a small garden to reduce urban water run-off and act as a carbon sink, keeping a little carbon dioxide out of the air – and more importantly diverting the water that usually flows into our lakes and rivers from the over-stretched sewage system.

The plants in the box are all made to be low-maintenance and adapt to both dry and damp periods – as well as being bee- and butterfly-friendly.  

A video on Rainboxes from the Bi Urban Youtube channel

“It has been popular around the area. Initially we held an event, two years ago, to register interest. It was part of a multi-faceted event, we had Engineers Without Borders and people talking about pollinators and urban biodiversity. We also had the rain garden as part of that in the sign up.” 

The pilot project, two years ago, allowed for research into what worked and what didn’t in reference to the boxes. This pilot was done in an effort to get more funding for boxes around the city.

“The overarching thing is: how you can set up a miniature ecosystem and not have to put too much work into it. You let it just flourish itself so you can have a little pocket of the wild in the middle of an urban territory”

– SADHBH BURT-FITZGERALD, CO-DIRECTOR OF BÍ-URBAN STUDIOS.  

The next stage of the project is launching in 2022, staying in Dublin’s northwest inner city. Funding was granted to the studio for a further 200 boxes to be put in place around the area.   

“It’s trying to solve this complex water infrastructure issue. It’s really difficult to dig down under houses and streets to fix the very tangled, very overgrown water system that we have. So doing something like this is beneficial.  

“The overarching thing is how you can set up a miniature ecosystem and not have to put too much work into it. You let it just flourish itself so you can have a little pocket of the wild in the middle of an urban territory which is so fundamental to our biodiversity.”

Sadhbh Burt-Fitzgerald, co-director of Bí-Urban Studios. Image by Megan Bell.  

Not only will this project assist our water and eco systems, but it will also promote well-being for people. Many parts of Dublin lack green spaces, making it difficult for members of the community to gain access to nature.

“There’s a health and well-being and an environmental aspect to the whole project. By having these factors available in people’s gardens, it brings back the joy and connection to nature into spaces that tend to be quite grey and cramped.” 

Bí-Urban is currently looking for applications for the next phase of the project on its website for the beginning of 2022.  

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