How would you measure a Belfast Buzz?

At the ‘Belfast One City’ conference Paul Nolan, author of the Peace Monitoring Report, said it would be difficult to collect the data to measure the positive feelings in Belfast. As odd as it may seem to take a scientific approach to measure the mood of an entire city, it does highlight how small victories for a city as a whole, may not be of any consequence to individual citizens struggling with recession.

As we head into summer, many people are suffering from brain freeze after being bombarded with iceberg related anniversary news. A ‘Thai-tanic’ restaurant really took the biscuit. Although there is probably a Titanic biscuit out there as well. The cynics will say, celebrating failure is not something we should be proud of, whilst others will point to the positive attention the Titanic has brought to Belfast. An impressive, new exhibition building to attract tourists and celebrities (John Bishop being the latest) can only be good for the city.

The Belfast media group in promoting the ‘Belfast One City’ conference labelled Belfast as a ‘vibrant city’. I would argue that there is no question that Belfast is going in the right direction, but with a city centre that is like a ghost town most days of the week, it is only our drinking and dining culture that is providing any footfall after 6pm.

Paul Nolan states in the PMR that: “Attention has focused more on the relaxed environment of the city centres, which now boast a new ‘cappuccino culture’, busy restaurants, shopping malls and night clubs.”

Following trends in the US or on the continent is not a new thing and the cappuccino culture in Belfast has been thriving for years. Now it seems like our mimicry of the continent is set to continue with new legislation set to be introduced to legally allow cafes, restaurants, and bars to place tables and chairs on the pavement for use by their customers.
DSD Minister Nelson McCausland said: ‘’Well designed, sensibly located pavement cafés can add value to the street scene, boost visitor numbers and contribute to the economic and general well-being of local communities. “

I would love more of the Al fresco lifestyle and I regularly take the opportunity of a break in the clouds to lie in a heap outside City Hall, but we don’t live in Madrid, Paris or even London.

There is the sense that we continue to struggle with our identity, a shared identity to be proud of. Titanic gave an example as one BBC reporter claimed her Catholic friends considered the Titanic to be a symbol for Protestantism. It is typical that even something as big as Titanic cannot be celebrated in unison.

Rather than measuring a so-called Belfast buzz. We should be moving past the buzz words like ‘A shared future’ and ‘dealing with the past’ and actually finding a way to make it happen.

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  • Neil

    I would argue that there is no question that Belfast is going in the right direction

    Royal Avenue’s growing collection of empty shops tells a different tale, with business owners complaining that their rates bill is now in excess of their rent one could say the city is heading backwards, fast, in no small part thanks to poor management and investing silly money in daft projects.

    We’ll see how that Titanic thing goes, I can see they’re doing a lot of conferences but that’s at the expense of other City Council centres such as the Waterfront. Sure Cameron/Di Caprio fans will come for a while but I suspect they’re not a suitable basis for a business plan.

  • Mick Fealty

    Couple of additional thoughts/links…

    Chris Wilde (he of the Retroscope) talks here about the value of the past in considering place…

    In an early unrecorded chat I had with him, he went so far suggested there was a dollar value attached to places in respect of the degree to which they varied from other places…

    And there’s that piece by Julia on Hearts and Minds a few weeks back…

    In other words capturing, understanding and retaining particularist heritage is crucial…

  • stephen.mcvey

    Neil I was thinking more over the last 20 years but the empty units as Supermarkets take control in the suburbs is definitely a serious issue.

  • stephen.mcvey

    Mick, Interesting how little of a historical mark will be left on the landscape

  • Its not merely a question of the traditional “ownership” of Belfast but rather a question that people of a certain age no longer feel at ease in their/our own city. I recall a BBC documentary about Ireland circa 1962 called “A Stranger Here Myself” and certainly thats the way I feel. I was in Belfast today. Passed a hotel called The Fitzwilliam (never knew it existed before today).
    You need a code from the cashier before you can use the toilets in the BHS cafeteria.
    Brought my wife to see the new Titantic Building….£13.50 for some phoney history no we didnt pay that!) but real history is across the road in the Public Record Office. The Titanic as the current issue of History Ireland states “launched on a sea of hype”.
    Big tall building…biggest in Ireland?…..but Ive no idea what its called.
    The Met…..whats that? Turns out its not just in Millfield. And soul-less appartments but one still has blue Christmas tinsel.
    Where are these Quarters. How many “quarters” do we actually have? There seems more than four “Writers Square” who dreamed that up.
    This week I have heard the word “barrista” three times…once on Facebook and twice on TV and no idea what it means.
    New Belfast….the city of the MTV awards is marketing codology.

    Effectively there are two Belfasts. Not Protestant and Catholic. Not even Old and New. Just Reality and me and people like me.
    If youre under 30 and work in something called “IT” or “marketing” then clearly the Belfast you identify s different to mine.

  • keano10

    The city is buzzing during the day, but is a virtual ghost town at nights. The Titanic theme is now being flogged to death, with one local pub now offering Titanic Lunches, which basically consists of Burger and Chips.

    It’s the nightlife though which really needs most attention. There are very few family-orientated attractions with which to keep tourists occupied. We are still well behind many European Cities in that respect. Rome wasn’t built in a day though.

  • After watching Mick’s link to Hearts and minds again, I feel the development of Belfast’s landscape seems to mirror our political developments. A Titanic shame and a neglected Heritage. A belief that If we keep rushing forward and trying to build over our history then we won’t have to deal with it.

    This will only last for so long. We have to face our history and not be ashamed of where we came from to get to where we are now. There is a fear that it might all come crashing down so let’s not deal with it.

    How long can this notion of normality last?

  • The Raven

    Not getting into the more esoteric aspects of this discussion, it is interesting to note that Minister McCausland has initiated a range of High Street meetings across our fair land. He’s looking at how aspects of the Mary Portas report can be shoe-horned (an unkind word, it’s not quite what I mean) into NI, where the environment is a little different to that which our brethren across the water occupy.

    A couple of points.

    Neil, contrary to what you might think, the rates issue is not the same across NI. In one town nearby to me, most of the property is owned by four or five “developers”. The rent is often dearer per square foot than some of the office space available in Belfast.

    Ownership in another town close by is fragmented, and often still in the hands of some doddery old dear who inherited from Plantation times.

    I’m not saying rates are fair – far from it. But we often forget that less than half goes to your local authority. The talk of building owners “doing deals” to ensure that their property is occupied is fairly exaggerated. Many are quite happy to let them sit empty rather than do a deal on extortionate rents – the recession didn’t hit everyone quite so hard.

    We are different from the continent, that’s for sure – but there’s nothing lets us down more when the visitors come and have to have everything done by 6pm that doesn’t involve a pub or restaurant. Our Sunday bye-laws are a disgrace. And I have limited sympathy when independent traders refuse to open on that day. Or indeed, go the extra mile to stay open til 7, when people might be able to use their services.

    Fitz, on one hand you’re spot on the mark. I’m heading quickly for the four-oh, so not quite as senior as some, but I was appalled – remain so, even – at the rape of the fabric of the city by glass and steel during the boom years. I doubt very much, that beyond a few very skilled people, any of the buildings we have left could be recreated, such is the deficit of skills and proper training – actual real two year apprenticeships – in actual building and restoration. Atwood, Farry – you’re missing a trick.

    My own former home in the Holy Lands is now a block of flats. (Until they build them bigger than rabbit hutches, I refuse to use the word “apartment”.) The little things have long since disappeared, down to the Tele sellers of old.

    But on the other hand…just a little harsh, perhaps? “Sham” or otherwise, and setting aside that it’s my hometown – I’d spend 24 hours in Belfast any time over the Ballymoneys, Coleraines, Derrys, and Strabanes of this part of the world.

    Spend a week in Omagh – perish the f**king thought that I sinned enough in a previous life to have to do so – and you’ll soon realise that the phrase “Belfast Buzz” has adequate appeal.

  • At the risk or re-roasting an old chestnut one of my buzz indicators is sport particularly international sport.

    Lets look at the most popular sports, the sports where if you are in a city on a day when that city is hosting a particular sporting event , you feel the buzz.

    Formula 1
    Gaelic games
    Horse racing

    In Dublin, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool, Newcastle for example you can feel the buzz on certain days , a buzz curiously never to be found in say Birmingham or Manchester. Belfast has neither the events nor the facilities and is an also ran (mebbe a boxing match once in a generation but that’s all).

    And yet a solution is on Belfast’s horizon, the Maze. Here we have ample space for a multi sport stadium capable of holding International and European matches and attracting supporters ,ample space for a race track for cars (F2) perhaps and superbikes definitely, and a horse racing track next door to boot.

    Wouldn’t it be great to have one six nations match a year and in successive years see hordes of French and Welsh etc , wouldn’t it be great not to be ashamed of our national/ largest stadium , and wouldn’t it be great to see Down getting thrashed by Armagh.

    Despite being on Lisburn’s doorstep Belfast would be the major beneficiary as it has the hotel infrastructure and the bars and the airports. But it ain’t going to happen is it?

  • lamhdearg2

    articles, hate to disagree, but i do, the maze is to far away from belfast, a stadium would need to be within walking distance of belfast city centre to create a change.
    As for getting the locals into the city centre more often, Free parking, weather protection,dome?* and traffic free front of city hall, more cops on bikes- city centre stewarts to control the neds, more use of the upstairs of buildings/shops for living, and more little things like pavment cafes, as Keano points out “rome wasnt” so think long term and think * big “dome”.

  • The Raven,
    I dont think Im being harsh.
    There is really two Belfasts.
    Yesterday I was in Belfast and Bangor. Had to leave the car for a repair on the Boucher Road and we were driven into town in a courtesy car. Although my wife works on the outskirts of the city, her visits into town are probably less frequent than mine.
    Hence our observation of the new hotel (Fitzwilliam) at the bottom of the Grosvenor Road. Hence her observation that “how do people find their way around here?” (the stretch from the Bridge to the Titanic Building).Indeed the Citybus driver actually stopped where there was no stop to faciliate us…the stop for the Titanic Building is actually in front of the Met and we “missed” it. The driver said that Citybus have been telling “them” that a bus stop was needed but “they” dont listen.
    Presumably planners dont get on a bus.
    Likewise a few weeks ago there was some kind of charity walk of people with flat caps and carrying sandwiches to the Titanic Centre. Harmless enough but phoney. These people were not grandchildren of Yard Men ..just some middle class pretence….albeit for a good purpose.
    All progress is necessarily a mixed bag. And it falls to old men to complain about how things have changed. I remember Dublin City in the rare aul times is a tad too romantic. Belfast certainly in the 1960s, 1970s 1980s was not that great. And travelling along the Albertbridge Road, its hard to resist the conclusion that the border between Short Strand and the Mount/Ravenhill is artificially created to produce inter community harmony….or indeed that the geography of the appartment buildings in Laganside… churches or schools……….no families is an attempt at neutral ground just like the Westlink or maybe the Boucher Road.
    Occasionally glimpses of reality come thru…..the Irish flag on the blocks of flats on the New Lodge Road or the “this is loyalist Claun Place” message in a side street.

    But planners dont live in a block of flats in the New Lodge or Cluan Place. There are good signs…..standing waiting for a bus at the Public Record Office 11.30am, a car with a familiar registration passed. The most familiar in Belfast. The youthful Mayor of Belfast seemingly does not sit in the back seat. He wants to sit up front in full bling regalia chatting away with the driver.
    Fair play to him for that. Somewhat irrelevant that hes Sinn Féin. More relevant that he is not carried away with the pomposity of it all.

    There certainly is a new narrative. I cant be expected to like it. Would I live in a small Falls Road two up two down house now? No. Or a NIHE house “up the road”? No I live 25 miles from the City Hall so I am not going to pretend theres no progress.
    Merely that part of the new narrative is artificially created…..and hyped by willing PR people, TV and print newsrooms.
    There are two Belfasts….as much as there are two (or indeed more) Londons. And for people watchers at the Bank tube station in London……the London experience is a very different one for the ticket collector manning watching the city types come in from the suburbs for the wine bars in and around Spittalfields…..
    Clearing the working class out of Limehouse or Surrey Quays to produce warehouse appartment blocks has merely hidden Londons poor.
    The people in Laganside………the “Titanic Quarter” folks have merely made the Belfast working class near invisible. Indeed the Raven mentions the Holy Lands….working class families rendered invisible by aspiring middle class from Tyrone.

    I cant therefore get carried away by news reports that begin “in the Cathedral Quarter…..” or “at Writers Square today……”.

  • FJH [6.17] We’ve got a media here that can’t seem to tell the difference between news and tourist guff, [which they[broadcast and print] are inflicting on us with the whole titanic circus which is so needy and desperate for attention even to the extent of welcoming bad publicity. How sad is that? Now they expect us to swallow the whole ‘romantic’ notion of the unionist blackmail of their own govt in 1912, as if the whole population was united in celebrating unionist culture. When will they stop patronising us?

  • keano10


    You are right about The Maze Stadium but unfortunately that ship sailed a long time ago thanks to the narrow minded NI football fans lobby who wanted to remain in the historical heartland of Windsor Park ( there are other descriptions which spring to mind). So now they are stuck in a dump of a stadium for footballing eternity.

    To turn down a 35,000 all seater stadium was total madness but they would rather stay in Linfield’s home stadium with all of it’s dubious connotations…

  • lamhdearg2

    Crusaders wining the setanta and the E.B.F.B. parade, to much to take in one day keano.

  • Keano10 Quote

    You are right about The Maze Stadium but that ship sailed a long time ago…

    So there’s hope then..