Well… it looks like there are no shortage of ideas for this one.
We asked what you would change if you were in charge. Here are some of the entries submitted so far – keep checking back as we’ll add more as they come in.
bill wolsey, group managing director, beannchor
Idea One: Live back in the city: Belfast has a rich tapestry of history and heritage, most notably beautiful Victorian buildings across the city centre – many of which are lying vacant and not being realised to their full potential. In Belfast we have an embarrassingly low rate of occupancy in the city centre compared to other European cities. It is currently very difficult to receive planning permissions to deliver these residential builds but if we could address these archaic laws, we could make real change and create housing. This in turn would create more vibrancy and activity in the city whilst leading to more positive change such as schools, health care facilities etc. which would naturally follow-on from more housing.
Idea Two: A Living Museum: Belfast’s story has been built on vibrant communities and the legacy of industries such as ship building, linen manufacturers, cotton and pottery. We have hundreds, if not thousands, of historical artefacts at our fingertips that visually tell us that story. Art and culture are an integral part of the human experience and sadly often that message can be lost, as it can feel inaccessible. To attract attention, encourage engagement with our history and heritage and visit attractions such as the Ulster Museum we should showcase these artefacts and items throughout the city centre. Through placing historical items in shop windows, bars and restaurants we can create a point of difference in the city and create a ‘living museum’. No other city is currently doing this and is a fantastic opportunity for Belfast.
Idea Three: Make Belfast a Green City: Tourists are increasingly being motivated by sustainable tourism. Belfast should work towards becoming a shining light for eco-tourism. Whilst working to make Belfast a ‘green city’ is a huge ask we must start somewhere. Everyone from hospitality to attractions, and everything in between should be encouraged to do better, and do it now through collaborating on a city-wide eco message.
Idea One: Make Belfast a hub for competitive video gaming (eSports): As the video game industry continues to grow (generating double the combined revenue of global music and box office) so too does the competitive games industry (eSports). Recent announcements such as The Ulster Screen Academy being awarded Unreal Academic Partner status demonstrates Belfast’s ability to be at the forefront of gaming technology. But there is an amazing opportunity to cater for the audience that plays and engages with these games. eSports events and festivals could be a showpiece for some of Belfast’s brilliant venues and attract a whole new tourism demographic.
Idea Two: Publicly subsidised video equipment hire centre: The success of the Belfast film industry has resulted in fertile ground for aspiring filmmakers. And while NI Screen do an amazing job of supporting grassroots filmmaking one of the greatest barriers for many is still the cost of equipment. The proliferation of smartphones means there’s a video camera in every pocket, but the full range of equipment required to produce a quality production goes far beyond that. A centre that makes this equipment accessible to budding filmmakers would help ensure the benefits of the film industry in Belfast extend well into the future.
Idea Three: Bring back the comedy festival: I mean, surely at this point we all deserve a laugh!
Idea One: Tesco is selling its beautiful premises on Royal Avenue for 4.25 million. This premises would be perfect as a dedicated food market for independent food businesses to sell local produce, products and meals throughout the week. This space would become a destination for local residents, city workers and tourists alike. Repurposing this unique set-piece of architectural heritage as a city owned and run food-market would also enliven the streetscape on Royal Avenue and become a new focal point in Belfast’s city centre. Every European city has one of these markets, why not Belfast?
Idea Two: Belfast needs to become more bicycle-friendly to improve the health of both its people and its air quality. Many people would love to take their bike to school, work or shopping but feel unsafe to do so. Dedicated and separate cycle lanes, safe bicycle storage points as well as changing points in workplaces will go a long way to reduce the barriers that currently exist.
Idea Three: If we can make Belfast a more bicycle-friendly city, we will eventually need a lot less city-centre carparking, particularly as homeworking becomes standardised. The eventual surplus of surface carparking in the city will enable opportunities to create more green spaces in Belfast, from parks to playgrounds, allotments and even micro-forests. The city-centre will become a more desirable place to live, work and visit as a result.
linen quarter BID
Idea One: Redesign of all public realm within the historical Linen District to create an outdoor office-as–playground setting that will redefine the experience of ‘office work’ and will help to support a vibrant office culture within Belfast city centre that allows for new ways of (socially distanced) working to take root. Such an outdoor office as playground could incorporate outdoor living rooms / meeting spaces / play spaces e.g. running tracks, climbing walls, table tennis etc. and would be supported by an online booking system and secure forms of sustainable transport e.g. sheltered bicycle parking and Ljubljana-style Kavalir public transport vehicles. A fully pedestrianized Linenhall St could act as the spine of this office-as-playground.
Idea One: Encourage street art and water features in the city, with street furniture like canopies over shops acting as aesthetic addition, rain cover and expanded shop space, thus increasing foot traffic..
Idea Two: Pioneer a system of rates relief for social enterprise and small businesses who might struggle to obtain a city-centre location – a mix of business types is as essential as mixed occupancy developments.
Idea Three: Revive or rebuild entertainment buildings such as cinemas and St Mary’s Hall, which used to stand on Bank Street and is now Bank Square.
Idea One: Full pedestrianisation of the entire length of Linen Hall Street to allow for the creation of a linear urban park that incorporates ample public realm for social socially distanced events, outdoor dining and drinking experiences, family friendly activities and water features. Such a park could be utilized to showcase a number of innovative sustainable urban features such as SuDS, green walls and green roofs and could help to re-attract much needed footfall for businesses by promoting the city centre as an attractive and fun place to be, while also providing a urban haven for local flora and fauna.
Idea Two: A new system of cycle superhighways alongside all Glider routes (existing and planned) that would allow for safe cycling for people of all ages, incomes and capabilities. Such an intervention would support both retail and hospitality in both local high streets (studies have consistently shown this) while also increasing visitor numbers to Belfast city center. Increased levels of cycling will also boost health levels among the population, thereby making the population more resilient in the face of any future pandemic.
Idea Three: A network of ‘community offices’ that provides workspaces within the local community and offers people without convenient home office facilities with a work environment that is flexible and close to home. Such a network of community offices would offer a dedicated place for ‘homeworking’ without the distractions of the home and would also be attractive for people that just look for an office retreat to get the work done. A community office should be more than just a workplace though and by providing desktop computers, additional training and refreshments they could act as small learning hubs that would be beneficial to all.
Idea One: Scent of a City – Every visit to a city is a sensory experience – for example, we ‘take in the sights’ – there’s the ‘Sound of Belfast’ and the ‘Taste of Ulster’, we can soak up the vibe or the ‘feel’ of a place. But how does our city ‘smell’? Can we create an exceptional ‘olfactory experience?’ The sense of smell in humans is more powerful that we realise – so let’s make Belfast smell beautiful. Olfactory reminiscence is the most powerful of all – I recall the smell of the Ormeau Bakery back in the day, the scent of fresh cut grass in the east Belfast ‘burbs as a child, or the ‘chippy’ in Ballyhackamore. Let’s blast the city with aromatics – pots of rosemary, thyme, fresh basil, lavender, roses. Research has shown that businesses that use ‘smell’ to attract customers increase profits – e.g. by dropping essential oils near their doors – why not make Belfast a city that smells beautiful and give our visitors an olfactory experience to remember.
Idea Two: Time Passages – City of Clocks – One thing that is universal to all is the experience of time, ticking onwards. My friend JT once told me – look up and count the clocks – so we did and discovered just how many beautiful clocks there are dotted around the city, casually documenting time ticking on and on, stopping for no one. In looking up to discover our clock faces, the added pleasure is in the discovery of our stunning architecture. From the slightly leaning Albert Clock to the digital documenters dotted on billboards – we could explore more about these historic, too oft-ignored edifices. We could fire the imagination of generations – via cross-generational work with the clocks as props, time travelling history projects, portals to the past and imagining just what the future clocks of Belfast will look like – is time the only thing that will never change?
Idea Three: The Other Belfasts – There’s only one Belfast – or is there? There’s 20 other places called Belfast – 14 in USA, two in South Africa, another somewhere in the UK (according to google), one in NZ and Jamaica. Can we imagine what these other Belfasts are like and should we find out? If the Festival is called Imagine Belfast – let’s imagine the others, and discover more about our similarities, differences and cultures. It’s a big wide world out there – let’s look outwards, take a global perspective, and make friends with our namesakes around the globe.
Idea One: Clean up the city of litter:
- Heavier fines & greater vigilance eg dog dirt, carry out waste…
- Accentuate campaign for recycling, especially plastic & tins.
- Tidy up vacant sites.
Idea Two: Clean and brighten up neglected buildings, especially prominent buildings eg. Crumlin Road Court House.
Idea Three: Fewer signs, especially trader off-site signs and stop political posters.
Idea One: A centre for resilience and wellbeing, researching and promoting best practice lessons from conflict and Covid. Practical and inspirational. Probably best located in North Belfast.
Idea Two: More bridges across the Lagan – for the enhanced social, recreational and business benefits.
Idea Three: More trees in Belfast.
arthur acheson, architect + civic planner, belfast
Idea One: People love parks. Covid-19 has demonstrated how much. Town and city centres can become parks where we see predominantly plants and birds. You can walk or cycle in a park or drive slowly and carefully through a park. A park can be made quickly and in a participatory way as per idea two below.
Idea Two: Communities in Barcelona make fire breathing dragons and create teams of castellers of all ages and sizes. They bring their skills to the city or town centre. Local communities (about 460 Wards across N. Ireland) can prepare the parks in their own places using wheeled trailers, each one planted as a small garden.
Idea Three: Not only can local communities plant and bring trailer gardens to make the town centre into a park, they can enjoy them, tend them and be thinking about the next season’s trailer, which can be got ready in the local neighbourhood and exchanged at the start of the next season.
dr. agustina martire
Idea One: Redefine movement of people in the city centre and surrounding neighbourhoods.
- Make parking really expensive, today Belfast City Centre has the cheapest parking in Europe, and an oversupply of parking spaces.
- Remove all on street parking. Multi-storey parking is much more efficient use of space
- Only allow cars in city centre for disabled and deliveries (if they cannot be done in cargo bikes).
- Build a complete and connected protected network of cycle lanes. Cycle lanes that you would be happy to let your 8 year old cycle on their own.
- Prioritise public transport. In this order: Trains, trams, buses, taxis.
- Widen footpaths and provide seating infrastructure.
Idea Two: Densify: Build mixed use an mixed tenure in every new housing development, and densify the existing
- Any new development needs to have 30% affordable and 20% social housing. This way you assure a proper mix of class and incomes.
- Only allow mixed use development, with services for health, education and arts/culture/leisure. Only allow new development with a good amount of small commercial units, so local traders can thrive.
- Only build gentle density. Belfast does not need more than 5 stories anywhere. Value design, so that people can benefit from outdoor space in their own dwellings while making the most efficient use of space and shared collective spaces.
Idea Three: Green, Green, Green
- Do not demolish anything.
- Plant a million trees in Belfast. If you remove on street parking you can plant trees in every street.
- Only make buildings that will last at least 200 years.
- Include the latest (tried and tested) technologies to reduce the energy consumption to a minimum.
- Create jobs in renewable energies.
Idea One: Increase accessibility for more walking and cycling around the city centre and its connected areas, particularly while there is the opportunity and appetite during the local lockdown. I feel working with current active travel and community bodies will bring about the most desirable of changes. Even something like extending the Belfast bike scheme further out of the city centre is a good way to show intent and progress. Even connecting the major suburban shopping centres to the scheme would go a long way.
Idea Two: Show greater appreciation and pride in the city’s alleyway and entry system. Attractive lighting and artwork will help make these rapidly developing areas become more attractive and popular location for both locals and tourists.
Idea Three: Give local artists the opportunity to carry out work on empty or depilated buildings in the city centre. There appears to already be progress but more should be done to celebrate our local talents particularly at a time when the arts industry has been badly affected.
Idea One: Grow Your Own Food – Enable all citizens to learn to grow their own food however small their balcony is and for those without any space to grow increase/create community gardens. People don’t know how to grow their own food. Farming and growing need to be for ‘everyone’ in an effort to create a more sustainable future. Some of the capacity building could bring farmers to virtual or real spaces to teach, coach, mentor young and old new farmers who want to grow their own food and find ways to ‘invest’ in small farms for the non-vegan folks.
Idea Two: Elder Spaces – Envision new paradigms for ageing from 50 forward. Bring citizens of ‘all’ ages together with progressive, visionary architects, developers and others who can imagine an end to warehousing elders and the creation of intergenerational developments that are designed to effect culture change and a vibrant intergenerational community/neighbourhoods.
Idea Three: Cycling Infrastructure & Cycling Community – Imagine a greener Belfast with investment in infrastructure for non-vehicular travel and communities. Transform roads and other spaces to enable cycling as short form transportation and recreation for all ages.
Idea One: I would seek to repurpose vacant buildings around the city centre to inhabit our rich and vibrant arts, culture and heritage sector with museums, art galleries, creative and craft workshops. Enhancing the “things to do, things to see” portfolio in our City, for the benefit of her citizens and its tourists.
Idea Two: Rarely does a capital city have such green landscape on its doorstep. With the Cavehill, the Castle and the Zoo all interconnected we truly have the very best of both worlds on offer in Northern Ireland. I would like to see the Old Belfast Zoo site transformed into beautiful, majestic gardens with camping/glamping facilities for those keen hikers and thrill seekers to generate an income, create jobs and promote our beautiful city. A Northern Irish spin on the renowned Eurocamps across Europe if you will. With an already existing bus stop directly opposite holiday makers can enjoy city tours and beyond.
Idea One: Build an integrated, segregated network of cycle lanes throughout the city with kerbs to protect users from vehicle incursions.
Idea Two: Change the rating rules so that there is no benefit to owners when a building or plot of land is left unused. Make it more expensive to own property forcing owners to put it into commercial use. Make it attractive to convert upper floors of buildings with ground floor shops to residential use. This should also be applied to unused office space.
Idea Three: Convert all ground level car parks to either:
- Parks with trees, grass areas, amenities and water features
- Urban vegetable plots allocated in the same way as allotments
- Outdoor art galleries
Idea One: Keep our city skyline low – who needs the tallest building? Our city is exceptional and what makes it so is the people and our sense of community. We do not need another tall building which blocks out the view and the sunshine – work on regenerating our existing buildings incorporating green spaces and trees (homes for wildlife).
Idea Two: Traffic Free City Centre – improve cycling and walking paths in and around the city centre. We do not need another multi storey car park – what we need is a car free city centre allowing for vehicles such as trades people (Roads, Water, Electricity, Gas), disabled access, taxis, buses, emergency services, pedestrians and cyclists.
Idea Three: Water Activities – I propose a large development (east Belfast, near Orangefield Park and Grosvenor Grammar) that will offer water activities in an Olympic sized pool e.g. diving boards, underwater diving, swimming, swim coaching, disabled access, aquarobics, mothers and babies classes, pool parties for toddlers, lifesaving, competitions, water polo, slides. To be surrounded by park and sensory gardens that would be ideal for rehabilitation. Being able to swim can be lifesaving, it is accessible to ALL. Health benefits would reduce NHS waiting lists.
Idea One: Acknowledge the past: choose a figure, an idea, a value that represents the Spirit of Belfast and its Values and commission a statue for the City Hall… get rid of Victoria or move her somewhere else (or cover her in moss?). Ideas for statues… Mary Ann McCracken, Buck Alec and his Lion, Mickey Marley and his roundabout, the United Irishmen, C S Lewis (yes, I know he’s in the east), ideas of exploration, equality, Mary Peters, Baroness Blood.
Idea Two: Look to the future; children and youth.
- Green spaces, sport areas and play parks
- More youth clubs crossing the city’s divides. eg. circus schools, art/music/sports etc.
- Better support for young children eg sure start type activities and supports for young families
- Education supports
Idea Three: Protect the future: A greener economy, more recycling, green areas, plant trees, pedestrianise the city centre. More homes in the city centre not office building and flats for Airbnb’s. A better balance in the city of small local businesses, craft centres eg. another regular St. George’s type market maybe down by the docks. A walking cycling bridge from the docks over to the Titanic and say NO to the proposed hotel there…keep the green public space!!