Build Belfast Back Better – #imaginebelfast wants your ideas

Eight and a half years ago I sat in an auditorium in Louisville, Kentucky on the first morning of their IdeaFestival. Mayor Greg Fischer strode in and enthusiastically opened the event. Across the tiered searing, school children mixed with businesspeople, academics, political representatives and ordinary citizens.

The city of Louisville was rapidly growing the number of health science companies in the area. Its diaspora were being invited to visit and see the improvements, and to consider relocating and reinvesting in their old home. There was a real sense of buzz.

Some of that optimism and positive promotion has been knocked out of the city in the last year. COVID-19 has impacted the city’s wellbeing and reputation. So too has the fallout from the tragic shooting of Breonna Taylor by Louisville Metro police officers on 13 March last year.

Both those factors probably play into the Mayor announcing a Build Back Better, Together campaign.

Neither the ideas festival nor the concept of planning for the future are unique to Louisville.

Belfast’s own Imagine! Festival of Ideas and Politics (previewed in a post on Saturday) not only informs its audiences about issues at home and abroad. It also listens to its audiences. Back in 2015, the festival ran an alternative manifesto campaign that collated policy ideas from audiences (and Slugger readers). Some political party policy offers will admit scouring the suggestions for ideas for their 2015 general election manifestos!

Ahead of next week’s packed programme, the festival are calling for your ideas to imagine a better post-pandemic Belfast. How would you Build Belfast Back Better?

You can submit up to three ideas that reimagine the city in the face of the pandemic and the challenges presented by Brexit, increased poverty, loneliness and mental health issues. They’ll be published on the website, and featured throughout the festival. Festival director, Peter O’Neill explains:

“The pandemic has raised many fundamental issues about the role of the state, and has caused us to reappraise how we wish to live. We now have an opportune moment to consider what we would change if we were in charge. As we grapple with the challenges of living in a pandemic and adapting to the volatility of a post-Brexit world, there is a strong case for embedding an inclusive and evidence-informed democratic culture at the heart of Northern Ireland, and for our political institutions to proactively engage with citizens about how to build a better society. Our festival programme engages with many of these big issues, but we want to hear your suggestions on what needs to change to realise a better future.”

Bill Wolsey, managing director of Beannchor Group (Bullitt & Merchant Hotels, Little Wing Pizzeria, The Hillside, The National, The Dirty Onion, The Yardbird) has submitted his three ideas already, seeking an increase in city centre living, a living museum across the city centre, and reaching out to eco-tourists.

Lots of other ideas have already been submitted, and Peter O’Neill would like to see more.

“Send us your three ideas to ‘Build Belfast Back Better’ and join the conversation. Use the short form on our website to send us your proposals and we’ll post the best online. At the end of the festival, we will collate the proposals for wider circulation, debate them, and have a vote on the most popular.”