What do you want from Belfast in 2020?

On Friday we’re holding the first of two #DigitalLunch sessions in partnership with the social enterprise, Artemis, in advance of an event they are holding in Stormont next week, which in part will show case some of the work they’ve been doing in Belfast schools.

The purpose of Friday’s #DigitalLunch is not to have yet another infertile argument about policy or political instruments or even arguments about whether we ought to be following the shared future or separate but equal lines. There are of course likely to be strong constraints on growth, and at least one general election between now and then.

With the Euro crisis creating huge uncertainties around Europe, nothing in the macro economic sphere is certain, despite a high degree of political stability.

In preparation for Friday’s lunch, I was wondering if we could ‘crowd source’ a SWOT analysis of the city, particularly with the question of where we want to be in the year 2020 uppermost.

What Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats do we face? Just pick up on those that you feel come most obviously too you, and try to fill gaps where you see them. It will give Friday’s panel something to weigh coming into the session.

I’d ask people just to keep this thread clear for the SWOT analysis. There’ll be another thread tomorrow when we’ll have space for discussion of the outcomes from this thread.Please also do add your own direct questions, to the Google Moderator page here.

If you want to take part in Friday’s panel, or just to be reminded of when the live starts, you can register here. Or email me directly at: mick.fealty@gmail.com. The Hashtag on Twitter is: #Belfast2020

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  • Drumlins Rock

    thanks for the maintainence guys, have to type this all again! rather annoyed.

    Geography- lovely setting on the coast with an estuary river valley and hills all round, quite special.

    Weather- stating the obvious but it remains probably our biggest difficulty!

    Diaspora- no not the cheesy homecoming crap but keeping a good relationship with our more recent graduate exports so they return someday or send invesment back

    RPA- the gerrmandered council proposals will cut off 30-40% of the nautral city population, amenities and services, relagated Belfast to 3rd city status in Ireland and third division in the UK.

  • Im pessimistic. At my age Im inclined to think I will not see any improvement in anything and that my impending dotage (it may have already happened) will be lived out without seeing any real optimism.
    Strength…..People. Its our best resource. The population here whatever their nationality are just incredibly decent (with obvious exceptions)
    Opportunity….Young people.
    Threats…….Violence. I am now convinced our institutions will collapse before 2020. The weight of contradictions guarantees it.

  • Neil

    Strengths: primarily the people. Some blatant exceptions to the rule (loud, aggressive, tracksuit sporting types) but generally smart, diplomatic people and some real geniuses out there. We also illicit a fair amount of sympathy.

    Weaknesses & threats: infrastructure for starters, those bus lanes are killing me. Someone actually sat down and decided that the traffic situation, dire this time last year, would be best served by removing a significant number of key lanes for traffic in the city centre. It would have been too difficult to see far enough into the future to actually plan for future growth and put some effort into the thing (a recurring theme when you watch them shift the bottlenecks a couple of hundred yards along a motorway as they have done). Add to that the fact that many shoppers will avoid the already struggling shops who pay more (in some examples) in rates per year than rent then a significant threat is that the city centre will be empty of shops, shoppers and life.

    Opportunity: see threats.

  • GavBelfast

    Hopefully for the city not to be overshadowed, when by then it is no longer a regional capital city, but merely the second city in Ireland, four years after unification – delivered as planned/predicted in 2016 …

  • Mick Fealty

    Now, now Gav, please bear in mind we’re trying to get to the future here… Just four words??

  • GavBelfast

    Joking aside: a (vaguely) rapid transit system for the east, or east and south-east of the city.

    It’s only been talked about since I was at school over generation ago, yet all’s to show for it has been a few nice fact-finding trips to far and wide.

    It is the sort of thing that devolution SHOULD be delivering on.

  • GavBelfast

    On the four words ….

    Strength: Stoicism of its people.

    Weakness: Infrastructure (see mine above as example of what’s lacking, and what Neil has said in more general detail).

    Opportunity: The city’s potential as a ‘bridge’ between these islands (if only most of us could see it that way, maybe more of us gradually are?).

    Threat: Violence is still tolerated and, by some, understood.

  • Jack2

    Location: one of the closest parts of Europe to USA. We aren’t England! Very low crime rate vs rest of Europe.
    People, education, rich non political history ie Titanic,famine, ancient buildings, textile/ship building/aviation.
    Two tribes mentality that cant even name our 2nd city to everyone’s agreement. Education has taken a battering recently – will the excellent results of the past hold up post transfer test/tuition fee’s?
    Tourism on the back of Titanic, see San Francisco and how they do Alcatraz. High end R & D.
    Emigration – our young people are leaving in large numbers. The leavers tend to be the higher educated forward thinkers.
    Peace process falls apart (hopefully unlikely!).
    Fringe religious fundamentalists gaining more political power eg. Caleb.

  • BarneyT


    Whilst it is healthier having a government\opposition structure, we should use the current power sharing approach to produce and enshrine long terms policies regarding health, infrastructure and education that remain protected from party line positions.

  • Ruarai

    Quick response:

    – on the way up, hopefully
    – first rate dry humor, little tolerance for the abstract
    – Boring people considered insufferable
    – Being boring considered shameful
    – strong sense of other-orientation, not a “me first” place
    – an egalitarian culture – few super rich, no dire poverty, everyone drinks the same pints in the same places, more or less
    – Good conversationalists
    – Strong sense of history, even if generally self-serving and selective
    – Known abroad, somewhat, at least relative to size and strategic insignificance
    – Strong arts community; deep respect for the arts – musicians; storytellers; performers, etc
    – Relative to international levels of corruption, racism, extreme poverty, violence and discrimination – a very decent place to live, work and be happy
    – Dependency culture: More professionals adept at filling in funding and grant requests vs. pitching for start-up investments; Lack of embarrassment and shame associated with dependency
    – smallness: small city, small talent pool, small preoccupations
    – afflicted by a filthy habit: sectarianism. Related: in denial about the extent, depth and dangers of sectarianism
    – Entrenchment of same old faces and tired old ways of doing things in too many sectors
    – Much more invested in arguing the past than shaping and imagining the future
    – Weather. Weather frequently feels like a violent assault
    – delusions about level of interest outsiders have or should have in its story
    – Unbelievably high salaries (relative to alternatives available in N.I) for QUANGO-type professionals
    – Soul-destroying large civil service
    – Culturally: obsessively self-occupied; narcissistic obsession with the local, particularly the macabre worst aspects of the local
    – Culturally: Place more united than divided, albeit united around the wrong thing: an obsession with tiny differences. N.I’s primary past time is seeing through a sectarian lens
    – foreign reputation as a place “suffering from” rather than a place leading the way
    – Small talent pool due to tiny size; small talent pool leads to mediocrities gaining undue confidence
    – Shocking standard of dentistry, in line with its region. What is that about?
    – Pop culture – a leader more than a follower
    – Continuing exclusion of LGBT community, including the shocking ‘acceptability’ of public figures speaking in appallingly bigoted terms
    – Education system – levels of 16 year-olds leaving school with little and concentration of said 16 year old in certain areas represents a loss of talent a small region cannot afford
    – Education system – too much focus on ‘doctors, lawyers, accountants’ type professions. System is not catering to, encouraging or stimulating entrepreneurial or innovative students
    – Standard of local news: Too often it fails to convey how little of the society and citizens’ choices are shaped by external forces; reinforces parochialism
    – Soft sentencing for serious crimes
    – Massive opportunity to leverage the advantages inherent in being Ireland’s second city
    – Massive opportunity to leverage the advantages inherent in being Ireland’s second city while being part of UK; can draw on advantages of both. For now.
    – opportunity to follow Dublin’s lead: path to creating a private sector and export sector with imagination and substance is there to see; opportunity to integrate and participant into these sectors
    -opportunities to leverage all-island approach to law and order, economic development and tourism
    – Opportunity to harmonize corporate tax rates, thereby enhancing whole island’s appeal to investors
    – Opportunity to remake itself – much of the rotten foundation has been stripped, what comes next is up for grabs.
    – opportunities to flip smallness into an advantage: small places are more conducive for integrated strategy implementation; e.g. take the lead in a green economy from Cork to Belfast; become an international leader in green innovation
    – Gender relations: Opportunity to lead by example with increasing presence of women in positions of leadership and power – (though much more to be done)
    – More immigration: Immigrants bring drive and dynamism. And perspective
    – failure to recognize weaknesses and address them
    – Too white; not much diversity; heavily reliant on English only
    – too complacent in the face of its cancerous sectarianism
    – lifestyle (bizarre lack of alarm when people in early 60s die: Lots of walking heart attacks strolling around)
    – High levels of alcohol abuse and dependence
    – Worryingly blind to the emerging realities of a globalized ad digitized economy and pending threats to low-skill jobs
    – Political class not fit for purpose in face of economic challenges ahead

  • Mick Fealty

    I think we have enough to start crunching some of these down before tomorrow’s #digitallunch.. Thanks everyone, and of course there’s always space for more…

  • Red Lion

    a nice layout as described above, Queens Uni has been (and always was a nice layout next to good amenities) A big thing to look forward to will be the Uni Ulster moving to Cathedral Quarter.

    A good arts scene, which could be further and quite cheaply expanded.

    perhaps too much of our population on the outer fringes-could some of this population be encouraged to move back in to the inner city?? Same for a lot of cities though. However, interfaces make the desirability of living in such areas much reduced.

    planning problems, developers find it too easy to build apartments where family housing needed more. Take Brown Square, its hard to get a pram in some of those apartments.

    pubs in the suburbs quite often have ‘legacy’ issues. Decent suburban pubs too few and far between. Need to take a leaf out of Englands book where the local pub is a civilised affair.

    too many retail units, particularly on our main arterial routes into town. Is it time to convert some of these to alternative use eg housing rather than lying empty.

    but space to attract industry and commerce at various places around the city.

    the Comber Greenway. Its just ace.

    and our surrounding satellite villages and seaside towns are an asset. English visitors are amazed when they discover the setting and pleasantness of bangor, holywood, greyabbey, comber, saintfield, hillsbro’, carrick etc. It shouldnt all be giants causeway and mural tours.

    A few years ago foreigners would tell me they wouldn’t go to Belfast as Ireland is too expensive. They didn’t realise Belfast has sterling and was quite reasonable in comparison. More should be made of our currency ties to GB but also that we are euro friendly.

    The twelfth – second only to notting hill carnival in Uk. And look at it, it costs us money in terms of policing and potential lost business and tourism. It is changing slightly, but it really needs to be moderated and reformed and act as a money maker/economy stimulator – not the opposite.This point should be made to the OO – cutting costs and attracting visitors makes NI more viable, not spiralling the UK subvention bill.

    Lack of markets! everybody likes markets look at the continental at city hall and st georges.

    Crumlin Rd Courthouse – such potential literally falling down – get it sorted!!

    I think too many working class belfast people feel excluded from a lot of the nice things i mentioned above. This is the same in most cities though.

  • Red Lion

    Oh, the voluntary sector (some aspects of which have political overtones)- sometimes overstepping the mark and thinking they have the expertise of statutory agencies, pressuring the statutory agencies to act in ways against their professional way of doing things. Delusions of grandeur and all that.