Have I mentioned Laganside?

I was quite stung by some of the comments on my earlier threads about Laganside. Someone asked me what my interest was in the place, and although I answered, I also gave it a lot of thought. I wondered if perhaps I was wrong and was selling the good people of Ulster a pup. So up I got this morning, pulled on the boots, and went on a day trip to Belfast and Laganside. At the risk of boos from the audience, I have to tell you it was a revelation. I met a friend for breakfast on the Ormeau Road in Graffiti Cafe. They do just about the best breakfast in town at the weekends, and its very relaxing. I wish Belfast restaurants would give you a free coffee refill, but thats for another day. After that, I headed down to the Laganside and caught the 12.30 boat, doing the tour of the Titanic area. The area was buzzing and alive with locals and tourists alike, bustling about or sitting on the benches relaxing. Dozens of people lined up to have their photo taken with the Fish- he symbolises the return of salmon to the river Lagan apparently.

The tour itself was educational and amazing. There may be a political ping-pong over the shipyard, but it certainly represents our industrial past, and a time when people from all over Ireland and Britain were coming to Belfast to work, making it one of the biggest cities in the UK in the 19th century. Sad to see how little care and attention was taking to the dismantling of the shipyard though, everything was just heaped in a big skip and taken away indiscriminately. Furniture, files, drawings, records, artefacts– all discarded prematurely and thoughtlessly.

You get to see all the dry docks, but more importantly, its a great way to see the Lough and the buildings and ships on either side. Have to admit, I was mesmerised by it all. There are some important buildings down there, and some of them are rotting away as we speak, buildings like the Pumphouse which is my clear favourite. It requires money to be spent, but no-one seems to be able to get the finger out and do something to save this gem. They are going to invest 2 billion pounds on this area, there is a moral imperative to preserve the character that remains at present.

After the boat ride, I wandered around looking for the concrete tundra! I didnt find it. Everywhere you look on dry land, there is evidence of care and attention to the tourist and local alike. Mind you, I did see an auld fella peeing like a race horse up against a wall, but that was more re-assuring than alarming.

Next over to the Custom House square for the real treats. I was fascinated by this 3×3 square installation that played a different sound for each square you stepped on. It was magic! As was the water fountain and the fight I picked with some young fellows who ended up chasing me through the water. The only anti dote was a pint at McHughs, sitting in the late afternoon sun with the glinting Orange Royal Mail building and the dappled Cutosm House for a view.

Took a short dander then to the Cathedral Quarter, and was amazed to see such a vibrant cafe culture, with all the cool wans out eating their ciabattas and sipping their wine al fresco. There’s a great statue of Jim Larkin behind the John Hewitt if you havent seen it.

The words I would use to describe the Belfast of today is growing, vibrant, confident and edgy. I now have no truck for the negativity of those who would run the city down, and feel that you could say those things about anywhere if you really wanted.

I guess what made my day was walking down High Street feeling happy and content, and seeing Susanne Breen coming toward me looking anything but happy and content. Perhaps if we were all to keep our eyes cast down, we would never see the magic sprouting up around us. I truly believe Belfast is on the cusp of becoming very cool, and we are well on the way.

Mind you, I had a great guide to the city today- thank you!

  • rapunsel

    Come on. So you had a nice day out in Belfast in the sun. That makes everyone’s else’s view point and perspective incorrect and irrelevant? Try it again on a wet day in November. The point I and some others were making on this issue is that Laganside is focused on accommodating the needs of business– ok you might say where those meet with the needs of people for jobs and leisure facilities. I draw a distinction on the use people put spaces to and the attractivenes or otherwise of those same spaces. You rightly single out Custom House Square– it’s an attractive space and has been put to some good community use. This whole area however is not targeted at the needs of pedestrians and as far as I know some community and voluntary groups are struggling to survive in Laganside properties. I don’t think others are doing the city down , merely giving their perspective on how they are experiencing it. What’s more interesting really is how people from across the city and elsewhere relate to each other. It seems to me that we like the tourists — as long as they don;t want to stay and get jobs. We don’t mind meeting people from different political and religious view points in thse shared spaces as long as we don’t have to engage with or talk to them. Shared space– only in the context of people sharing the same physical space maybe.

    Anyway glad Miss Fitz that you had a good day out — — I walk the area several times a week and enjoy the walk — it seems to me your enjoyment ( as mine is ) was because other people were there and using the area. At least that is a good thing!

  • aquifer

    Belfast has a very young demographic being boosted by incomers. Rising property values may give the place a sustained lift, as rebuilding boosts employment and as the extra equity can lever in non-housing investment.

    Local politicians and sectarian hoodlums af all colours may struggle to re-affirm old certainties and service old victimhoods while others are moving on. [a href=http://news.scotsman.com/index.cfm?id=1262582006]Scottish Independence?[/a]

    Rather than crystallise their losses in the functioning of real politics and governance, they may stall. Violence often being the resort of political losers, it could come from either extreme.

    If they are holding the Titanic maritime museum until a settlement, do we want to wait that long?

  • ‘Rising property values may give the place a sustained lift, as rebuilding boosts employment and as the extra equity can lever in non-housing investment’

    Okay if you’re on a professional salary, I suppose, but what if, like the vast majority of people in NI, your earnings are in the £10-£15K bracket? How can you afford to buy or even live in property in Belfast (or anywhere else for that matter)?

    To really rejuvenate an area like Belfast City Centre, the govt needs to subsidise affordable builds for low-income workers,create new public sector rentals, or to seriously clamp down on the buy-to-let sharks. I find it obscene that the only option open to young people now is to rent property privately at £400- £500 a month. (As renting from the Housing Executive has ceased to be a realistic prospect for anyone in full-time employment.)

    People don’t stay in apartments very long, and they certainly don’t raise families in them. Even more oddly, the presence of apartments doesn’t seem to generate a supporting presence of shops etc. They are sterile, gated communities that add nothing to the environment around them.

  • ffs

    Nice point about Ms Breen, was she the only one out of all the people you saw that day who had a scowl on her face, or was she the only one you knew, did you not stop to share your contentment or just wait til you got to Slugger to put the boot into her?

    I’d wager that there were quite a few more locals with scowls on their faces apart from Ms Breen.

    The shared space of the city, the City Centre, Laganside, is indeed a vibrant, growing space. This does not mean that the spaces where the inhabitants of Belfast live – is as pleasant and that the problems complained about don’t exist. Just because you are happy and content in Laganside does not mean the magic wand has been waved and everyone else is a mean old naysayer!

  • Comrade Stalin

    I wish Belfast restaurants would give you a free coffee refill, but thats for another day

    I’m with you there, Ms Fitz. It’s like Moscow under Brezhnev.

    There are one or two places which do coffee refills. The Other Place on Botanic Avenue used to do it, I’m not sure whether they still do or not. It’s a shame the more “coffee house” places like Clements, Roast and so on don’t do it. On the other hand, the cheesecake in Roast is fantastic.

    It still amazes me the number of places that serve up shit and call it coffee, though.

  • Went into Belfast yesterday. Called over to John Hewitt, but it was bunged with smoke, so promptly left again. High Street still stinks of sewers, despite the problem being omnipotent for several years. And Graffiti is rather expensive for what you get, although there isn’t exactly a broad range of alternatives. As far as the other pubs and cafés are concerned- overpriced, below-par-quality food and beverages.

  • wha
  • Miss Fitz

    FFS
    Just on one point you make. I mentioned Suzanne Breen beause if you took the time to follow the links, you would see that all of this started in response to negative and churlish comments she made on Talkback about 2 weeks ago. There was a rebuttal on Talkback in favour of Belfast, but this is the genesis of that particular remark.

    And honestly, with the kind of attitutdes most of you display, even if Belfast was a ‘shithole’ it appears to be no more than you desire or deserve. You’d make anyone sick with you gurning and whingeing. Get over it

  • smirkyspice

    missfitz i know how you feel, i like Belfast too… sure there are lots of things i don’t like about the place, but i could say that about anywhere if i put my mind to it… as one of those damn foreigners who stayed and got a job – gasp – i have taken some stick for having a positive attitude about my new home…”yer not from here, you don’t know what it was like” etc etc ach well, thankfully not everyone is the same, but it’s too bad many of the negative nay-sayers seem to congregate on slugger 🙁

  • ffs

    Miss Fitz, stupid I am not. I followed your links and you are determined to continually characterise Ms Breen in a negative light (“anything but happy or content” “churlish”). One wonders could your point not be made just as well without playing the woman, or personalising your agenda?

    This is of course in addition to the rather patronising and condescending attitude of Let Them Eat Cake you display. Things are changing in Belfast, some things such as you illustrate for the better, that does not mean people should be silenced when they speak of changes for the worse, or made out to be bitter oul ungrateful hags as you would do.

    By the by, what part of Belfast do you live in?

  • Miss Fitz

    FFS

    You say you arent stupid, but I am having a hard time believing that. I dont know where to start with your silly allegations, and to be frank, right now I dont have time.

    You must have some wee agenda here, and I just want to make it clear that I do not or have never attempted to continually portray anyone in a negative light. Thats tosh. I responded to a particular opinion item, and I did this once. Suggesting anything else suggests that you are not watching, listening or understanding.

    As to where I live? Ha! You obviously follow my commentary VERY closely indeed.

  • It’s a trend not limited to Belfast really. I think it’s classic “grass always greener” syndrome that afflicts most people at some time in their lives, no matter where they live.

    For what it’s worth I quite like Belfast. The centre is just small enough that you can easily remember your way about, but just big enough to have most of the shops and facilities a city needs (except a sports stadium fit for the 21st century, which they’re working on).

  • Crataegus

    Miss Fitz

    There are two types who criticise Belfast the first look at it objectively and say much done and much to do, and we can do it a lot better. I’m with people like Repunsel and Aquifer when they say we haven’t really created many good civic spaces. Next time you visit take a hard look. There are acres of surface level car parking around developments and few shops and cafes along the River. We could have had the likes of the small book stalls they have in Paris, given our weather covered glazed walkways and much much more variety and density. You have to make it a place buzzing with activity a place to go and meet others, but that needs buses to stop there promised train stations to happen etc. In that context the new stadium should have been at Maysfield. The problem is very poor coordination and atrocious Urban Planning. What we have is known as parking lot development with each building in isolation on its own lot so that the whole is not greater than the summation of the parts.

    There are many good and significant changes in Belfast and one is the advances being made in the opening up of the Belfast Hills. Also Councils like Newtownabbey have been quietly getting on with providing a networks of walkways and cycle routes in a coordinated manner and there is the Lagan Country Park. There are many small advances being made which collectively will make a massive difference.

    There is a building boom in the city and the population of inner Belfast is going to increase significantly. There are major developments such as the Victoria Square Development heading towards completion.

    BUT overall it is one hell of an improvement.

    I personally believe that the Planning Service is a major part of the problem and we need to bring in some people with greater vision to shake it up. It obviously does not have the expertise necessary. They are the only ones who can effectively coordinate developments. If you set guide lines for say a street then small developers can build one unit each and all fit together, you are not relying large developers and more resources and opportunities are created. That’s how the Georgian Squares and the boulevards of Paris were built.

    There are the second type who criticise for political reasons, the one’s who support organisations that bombed the place for thirty years. The one’s who destroyed old Smithfield Market and countless buildings and businesses. It sticks in their gullet to see improvements outside their narrow context of a united Ireland for in their sad world no good is possible in any other context. They would sooner live in a hovel than be proved wrong.

    Rupert

    It is simple enough to make a percentage of social housing a condition in a planning approval. There is a dire and worsening housing shortage caused by planning policy and lack of foresight. You don’t make decrees like Rooker on rural houses unless you have an alternative in place to ensure long term supply. I am not arguing for massive rezoning but more detailed, coordinated, high density proposals for the inner city. I have been approached by numerous developers who want to buy my house and develop it as a site. This type of pressure and the development patterns it produces can’t be good.

  • B em used

    Oh dear – ” I met a friend for breakfast on the Ormeau Road in Graffiti Cafe. They do just about the best breakfast in town at the weekends, and its very relaxing”.

    Sorry – they may well do the best breakfast in town at the weekends, but that’s only because there’s nowhere else doing anything even remotely edible. Grafitti is an utter hole. It’s part of that great Belfast tradition of holes – the Ormeau Road is littered with them. The Olive Tree is just about acceptable (if you were starving and stuck).

    Really – eating average muck in a place that looks like a crusty’s wet dream was fine when you were in first year ag-science in Queen’s. As an adult, however, take my advice – buy some black bacon and pudding from O’Dohertys (they’re on line), the best sausages you can afford, some nice bread, field mushrooms, eggs and plum tomatoes from the market and eat a sublime breakfast in the comfort and luxury of your own home (without presumably having to ‘enjoy’ the views of discarded chip-wrappers, vomit, spides and Union ‘flegs’ that the Ormeau offers of a morning.)

    Please – you really must get away more. Breakfast on the Ormeau followed by a boat-trip around an abandoned shipyard may be the height of enjoyment and enlightenment if you’ve been bed-ridden/imprisoned for the last thirty years – otherwise, it’s horrendous.

    Bon appetit!

  • Rory

    Mind you, I did see an auld fella peeing like a race horse up against a wall, but that was more re-assuring than alarming.

    Quite, Miss Fitz. A sign of a healthy prostate in a ageing man is always uplifting and I’ll bet he was mightily complimented that you should compare him to a racehorse.

  • Concerned Rate Payer

    Nice thread Miss Fitz. Could i ask you, did you happen to see any of the ornamental drunks that live around Laganside?

    The ammount of anti social behaviour that goes on in and around the Laganside area is unbelievable. From mugging – peeing in public – fights – homeless eastern europeans and thats just the tip of the iceberg.

    Customs house that had stood untouched until they opened custom house square – then came the goths and the graffiti on customs house itself.

    At weekends a private security company now has to patrol the area.

    A police force that doesn’t want to know !!

    Thats the real world Laganside area !!

  • sparticus

    Rate Payer has some good points. Although its my belief that Belfast really is becoming a city of two halves; Firstly, the plush upper middle class whose teenage lay-a-bout offspring mooch around the city hall every Saturday afternoon. Then the poverty stricken inner city underclass, who seem to have to resort to the crime that blights the city centre to scrape any kind of living. Lets face it guys, a short bus tour can take you from the ‘thriving’ city centre to poverty stricken shankill/falls/ardoyen with in five minutes. Rather than invest money in the likes of the Titanic quarter (hmmm, sounds like that other successful building scheme from the 60’s you know – Craigavon), the government should invest money in improving the communities beyond the fringes of the city centre, where funding is seriously needed. If you stamp out poverty, the crime should soon evaporate.

  • Ranier

    Good post, but i have to agree with the sentiment that you’ve picked arguably one of the nicest parts of Belfast and strolled around it on a nice day. Try Castle Street on a wet January.

    Yesterday i showed an Australian friend around the city, and being Sunday the place was mostly dead.
    However, I’d agree with the notion that Belfast is improving but where does it want to go and is there any kind of development plan that will tackle the issues such as urban transport, architectural desgin/planning and dealing with the rather high proportion of Spydes to Humans?

    Belfast may well be where Dublin was 15 years ago and it should try and learn some hard lessons from Dublin’s (continuing) Development.

  • B em used

    Castle Street should be razed to the ground. Simple as. No fucking about. Just do it.

  • Comrade Stalin

    I quite like Castle Street. It has a good butcher, at least one good bakery (are there two? I can’t remember) and of course, the best barber shop in town – the Executive. It is the one street which, as far as I can tell, has not been polluted by any of the cookie-cutter chain shops that almost completely dominate Royal Avenue. I’d not be in favour of raising it to the ground at all.

  • Crataegus

    I always think one of the assets in Belfast is its leafy Victorian suburbs. Good houses now under severe threat. Another is the improving open space around the city, which could be significant in the future,

    Ratepayer

    If you have more general activity it tends to disperse the antisocial element. Not enough businesses, cafes. apartments, shops etc. The development densities are far too low and there should be NO surface car parking, kiss of death.

    Spartacus

    Nothing wrong with the Goths, they are just teenagers making use of our civic spaces. Rather them than the type that frequent pubs near the markets.

    I agree about the needs in the Shankill, but until the problems relating to paramilitary organisations are properly tackled I wouldn’t invest a farthing in the place. It’s just not worth the potential hassle. To rejuvenate these areas requires more than just government money you need developers large and small. It will cost billions. It’s starting to happen in places like lower Castlereagh but it is very uncoordinated.

    Rainer

    There is the Belfast Metropolitan Plan but don’t expect it to deliver a quality environment. You need someone to step in as lead developer, as it were, and set quite detailed guidelines for a specific area so that individual developers can build on each lot and in the end although each building can be different it is within a given context. To the best of my knowledge this is not happening.

    Stalin

    I agree about the characterless shops do you know of any measures that would help ensure some local identity is maintained and strengthened in Belfast?

  • Concerned Rate Payer

    Why would anyone want to visit the place, its dirty + when visiting for boats trips drunks begging for money + peeing and fighting with themselves. And the cops are too busy hiding in custom house square trying to catch people going up a bus lane or using their moblie phone in the car – turning a blind eye to anti social behaviour.

    We’ll see how long that goes on for when the yuppies move into the Obel – no doubt top judges + peelers.

  • Ranier

    Thanks Crategus, the place needs a cohesive forward plan if it does want to become a serious contender for a future ‘European city of Culture’ The last time it entered was a joke.

    Although to be fair a good start would be if they extended the opening hours instead of chucking everyone out at 1AM.
    Thompson’s does get somewhat tedious and any contintental friends i bring over laugh at the pathetic liciencing laws.

  • Garibaldy

    Ranier,

    You want to try drinking in England. Still rubbish closing times, despite the change in the law

  • moochin photoman

    Ranier…
    I was down at Customs House Sq on Sunday and the cops cleared a group of street drinkers during the course of the Skate Naked show as part of the circus schools “Square Sundays”.

    The private security guards are a complete waste of time, yesterday a group of “feral lil f@§ks” tried to steal items from the performers whilst the stupid gets stood around in their red jackets.

    Crataegus
    I would agree that surface carparks are a complete no no. Any future develpments should be looking at Living Over The Shops(LOTS) as a basis of the developments, this would go some way to engender a sense of place and pride in the area.
    A few years ago I was involved with a project with a Housing Association based in the city center.If they ran out of milk or the lecky cards ran out after 8pm, they faced a walk up to the Spar on Botanic Ave because the residents didnt feel safe enough to walk up to the nearest shop at Carlisle circus!!!
    Not exactly good town planning and yes it is going to take alot of money to improve the city center.

  • DST

    Good for you Miss Fitz!

    What a bunch of old miseries some of these people are! Belfast has undergone an amazing renaissance in the last fifteen years or so.

    OK, it’s never going to be London, New York or Paris (and more fool anyone who expects it might) – but it’s got a real sense of place / character. The people are great. The setting is unique, and the buildings and history are fascinating.

    I love seeing Belfast begin to shake off the worst of the past and turn into the booming brash get-rich-quick creative hub it’s supposed to be.

    Laganside has worked very well. One of the very few instances of where state intervention has worked to prime the pump. Laganside – literally – cleared the way for private investment.

    I was excited by Laganside from the day they launched the corporation – I even spent a summer working there as an intern because I was so fascinated to see what it aimed to achieve and what it was doing.

    I am very excited to see what the Titanic Quarter people come up with – Victoria Square and Royal Exchange will be great too.

    Next time I am over Miss Fitz I hope we can go for a boosters’ tour of the city centre.

  • DK

    “Try Castle Street on a wet January”. Castle Street is great for a bargain – has quite a bit of character. Also there is apparently going to be an exclusive fish shop & restaurant built just off it (near the chapel I think).

    I will join in with the Belfast is great crowd. I do the walk from the fish to the odyssey fairly often. There are sometimes drunks near the fish, but mostly just people enjoying themselves. Victoria square looks like it will be excellent, but Castle Court will end up like the northcott centre.

  • Ranier

    Meh, i’ll stick with the ‘Belfast is a dump’ opinion for now, hopefully the future will be brighter. I agree with a lot of the sentiments on this thread, i.e. it has the potential to be great, but it’s far too much like an average sized, generic british city to be attractive.

    Theres no unique shops, a serious lack of a city centre population, no feeling of vibrancy and nothing peculiar in it’s architecture to make it stand out from anywhere else in Ireland/GB.
    Heck, if they built a 20 ft bronze statue of George Best in front of the city hall it would be a big improvement, but something tells me
    that’ll never happen.

    ‘Castle Street is great for a bargain’ – Yep, i remember being able to get 6 Carlsberg Export for £4 there when i was 15.

  • Crataegus

    Moochin

    Accommodation integrated with the retail or craft units is a good idea. It would limit interest to locally owned businesses and attract younger tenants.