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:
- Creative reuse of unused spaces throughout the city
- Collection of Belfast stories of a new generation
- “Crowd-sourced” information gathering for policy ideas (now live): 17ideasforbelfast.com
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.
I am a peace journalist, because I believe in transforming conflict-driven narratives. I am editor of Shared Future News, which reports on peacebuilding in Northern Ireland. I am a co-founder and editor of FactCheckNI, Northern Ireland’s first fact-checking service, which works improve civic discourse. I also support the conflict resolution work of the Forum for Cities in Transition in Belfast.