Confident. Ambitious. Prosperous. Distinctive. Launch of Successful Belfast.

Confident. Ambitious. Prosperous. Distinctive. Launch of Successful Belfast.
by Allan LEONARD for Northern Ireland Foundation
27 October 2016

Walking past the students at their tabletops, working on their assignments with mock constructions at the School of Architecture at the Ulster University Belfast campus, there was no mistaking that I found the venue for the launch event for Successful Belfast, described in an advance notice by founding director of Belfast Buildings Trust, Ms Fionnuala Jay-O’Boyle, as “a city-focused think-tank”.

Shane Quinn welcomed the audience of over a hundred persons, by telling us that we need “a different way of doing things”:

“Today is the day we start doing. We want you to be part of that doing,” Quinn invited.

He explained that the point of Successful Belfast is to use collective energy for greater things, not to be complacent with how much better we are post-Good Friday Agreement:

“Instagramming ourselves at a glitzy event does not mean that we’ve made it.”

Instead, Quinn asked what you are going to do to make Belfast the kind of city that you want it to be.

Successful Belfast’s vision is a Belfast that is confident, ambitious, prosperous, and distinctive city.

While the origins of Successful Belfast come from a partnership between Belfast Buildings Trust and Ulster University, Quinn added that this was about more than the city’s buildings: “It is also about the city’s music and art. Its scientific developments and its economy. Its parks and streets. Its openness to new ideas. Its attitude to quality … how we make our physical spaces attractive and people-focused places.”

“It is about a civic confidence and a cultural maturity,” he finished.

Concrete plans include building a culture of participation, where “class, creed, skin colour, sexuality, gender, ideology do not matter”.

The vision statement has a 50-year target, stretching over two generations. But Quinn implored us not to wait:

“The challenge I put to you today is 3,653 days — ten years of afternoons or mornings or evenings in which we can make a difference in Belfast. Because, just as it is time for new voices in the city now, in ten years’ time it will be time for still newer voices to be heard.”

We heard about the active delivery of a successful city from Sir Howard Bernstein, who as chief executive of Manchester City Council, was responsible for that city’s invigorating regeneration for two decades, and respected as amongst the foremost civic leaders on these islands.

Sir Howard gave an animated presentation of Manchester’s “journey of change”.

He underlined the importance of ensuring that all people in your city can share in the wealth created. Here, he suggested an understanding why some voted to leave the European Union — the impact of globalisation upon some local communities was not adequately recognised. This was compounded, he argued, by a skills deficit contributing to multi-generational joblessness.

Sir Howard said that a sense of place is fundamental to creating a platform for growth. The development of a place needs to be collaborative, involving people who live in that place. He gave the example of their exercise, “Our Manchester”, whereby tens of thousands of residents responded by describing what was important to them, what made their city a great place to live.

Finally, Sir Howard recommended independent scrutiny of your work and efforts, and not to seek the security of internal bunkers: “And I’ve been in some of those bunkers!” Instead, get evidence to act.

Suzanne Wylie, the chief executive of Belfast City Council, repeated many of Sir Howard’s points, explaining that her duty was not just to build a successful city economically, but one that is shared and loved by all its people.

Ulster University deputy vice chancellor, Alistair Adair, provided some closing remarks, describing the objectives of Successful Belfast as aligned with the ethos of the university.

Adair also said that the new Belfast campus is an example of place making and regeneration, “breathing new life in this northern end of Belfast”.

Jo Corr explained next steps, including the planned launch of three projects over the next twelve months:

  1. Creative reuse of unused spaces throughout the city
  2. Collection of Belfast stories of a new generation
  3. “Crowd-sourced” information gathering for policy ideas (now live):

A event focussing on a Successful Belfast City Report is scheduled for autumn 2017.

Meanwhile, all are invited to attend a working meeting at 6.00pm on Tuesday, 15th November, at the former St Patrick’s School (next to St Patrick’s Church), 193 Donegall Street.


Originally published:

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  • Gary Thompson

    We have some very nice buildings in the city centre (once you look up past the ground floor), and a lot of them appear to have unused upper stories. Perhaps they could be re purposed as living spaces a la New York loft style accommodation?

  • Declan Doyle

    Belfast is my favourite Irish City even beyond my hometown of Dublin. It has all the charm of a small city with a cosmopolitan feel one finds in other European cities. The people are friendly and those who work in the tourist sector and services sector always go the extra mile to make visitors feel welcome. Some beautiful buildings and fine eateries, not to mention an exciting night life. As the nations second city in terms of size, it is number one in my book.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Confident, ambitious, prosperous, distinctive: Noble aims but how achievable? Distinctive is certainly true but we might struggle to become the first three. Manchester has achieved many of its aims but it has a highly populated hinterland that increases the city’s daytime population and its nighttime population both of which feed the economy beyond the civic population’s contribution. Northern Ireland doesn’t have this population size nor does it presently show the same spending potential. Added to that we have the famous brain drain, prohibitively high business rates in our city centre, town planning that favours the car and not the built environment, an economy that is essentially mendicant and unsustainably so, affluence in the suburbs and feeder towns with poverty and tribalism encircling our city centre, a businesses’ needs first (and at all costs) driving the erection of new buildings and poor consideration and coherence of the architectural aesthetic. Something like this seems long overdue and I live in the city centre.
    PS Allan, why all the snaps of Briàin Klingon?

  • I think that beating procrastination is your first and main step towards becoming successful. Talking about procrastination, I’ve been struggling with mine for the last 10 years and read countless books and self help methods. Here is what I’m having best results with. First of all, procrastination bulldozer method has worked wonders for me. I highly recommend you apply it. Secondly, whenever you have a task that takes less than 5 minutes to do, do it right away. No delays. I’m really starting to take control of my life now.

  • ted hagan

    I see where you’re going with that one.

  • UPDATE: Venue change for next Successful Belfast meeting: 6.00pm on Tuesday, 15th November, at the former St Patrick’s School (next to St Patrick’s Church), 193 Donegall Street.

  • Re images of the Belfast Lord Mayor, simply because that was where I was sitting; images from my zoom lens-lacking iPhone ’tis all.

  • ted hagan

    I think originality is the key. Creating development and ideas that are unique to Belfast, not simply apeing other provincial cities, ie got the riverside cafe with apartments (tick), got the pavement cafes(tick) got the shopping mall (tick).
    While Belfast has progressed, there have been a lot of planning disasters over the years…. how many decent traditional pubs survive in Belfast, compared with Dublin for instance? Very few. How many beautiful streets have been blighted with ugly multistory car parks? Check out Chichester Street. There are some monstrous new buildings in the Cathedral quarter also.
    Much decent work has been done but there is much to do.

  • Declan Doyle

    Future Capital of Ireland?

  • lizmcneill

    Have you seen the plans for the new “Belfast Hub” to replace the Europa bus station/Great Victoria St train station? Could be another blah development.

  • AntrimGael

    As a proud Belfast man I agree with some of this Declan. The setting of the city is simply stunning, situated in a bowl surrounded by a lough and set of hills that provide a backdrop that many cities would pay a fortune for. I remember the MTV Europe awards a few years back. For a 2/3 day period it was freezing but a blanket of fog/ice sat on the hills as the sun shone and the city looked fantastic. On the downside on a grey day Belfast can look as grim as anywhere else.
    There is massive redevelopment going on and the city centre is starting to look like a city centre should but the buses have to go from around the city hall and we need more paved/pedestrian areas. Standards of service in pubs/hotels/cafes/restaurants STILL leave a lot to be desired in Belfast. There is STILL very much a “What de ya wanntt?” in a lot these places and it bugs me big time; there just isn’t a service mindset as you find in the US and France etc and it very annoying. .
    Belfast is an historical place but there sadly there only appears to be ONE narrative at play surrounding Unionism and theTitanic etc and a complete denial of the Irish Republican/Nationalist history. NOWHERE in the Titanic ‘quarter’ will you find mention of the sectarian history of the shipyard and the anti-Catholic pogroms where the few Catholic workers were attacked and thrown into the docks. Within the NI Tourism bodies you won’t find ANY mention of the Cavehill and the United Irishmen either and this one dimensional storyline is very annoying BUT don’t expect any change soon or protests from Sinn Fein or the SDLP. They are having a lovely time up at Stormont with their impressive salaries, expenses and free mint imperials.

  • Declan Doyle

    I know how you feel about SDLP and SF and unfortunately I cant help you there. However, I have had some great tours in Belfast around falls road, the cemetary and numerous other Republican/ Nationalist focused tours all sponsored or in some way connected to community efforts supported by both those parties so its not all bad news.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    I agree 100% Ted

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    How much could Belfast be improved if

    a/ Rather than spend millions on grand projects rate relief was instead introduced for small businesses

    b/ Some of the city’s key neglected buildings (such as the one on Garfield st) were sequestered and sold off to sympathetic developers in order to show developers they cant just sit and wait for a building to deteriorate to the point where it’s not worth saving (which they can do at present)

    c/ Some of the many car parks were also to be sequestered and sold off to developers (let them put up as many ‘exciting new developments’ as they want in that dead zone as you enter the city from the north)

    d/ they were to revamp the area around the central library WITHOUT having to knock everything down a la the Ulster University (a disgrace, an absolute disgrace that was)

    e/ (as mentioned below) property owners were encouraged to convert the upper floors of their city centre properties into residential apartments

    There; small businesses (including historic pubs) saved, new businesses brought in, developers discouraged from allowing the city to rot and a new lease of life for parts of the city.

    There are ways to improve a city without turning everything into a McDonalds or a shopping centre:

  • John Collins

    It had that distinction, as it had the largest population, before 1911.

  • Declan Doyle

    Yes, and it is Ironic how the statelet has effectively flipped from powerhouse to poorhouse ever since partition.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    What a minute!

    This is the SAME Ulster university that recently demolished the art deco buildings that were Metropole and Orpheus?!

    Those that dwell in glass office-blocks shouldn’t throw stones…

  • Am Ghobsmacht
  • Cináed mac Artri

    Well said!

    The original streetscape was much more on the human level. You could, for example, walk by on the street and look in through the windows at the art students working and putting their collections together for the annual exhibition. It really connected the university to the city in my view.

    I’ve no issue with modern architecture in context, but a set of huge geometric blocks on York Street doesn’t do it for me. Out of scale and a tad hubristic in my opinion.