Federation for
Housing and

Urban Thinkers Campus: Belfast - Report

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Executive summary

The International federation for Housing and Planning is pleased to report that our Urban Thinkers Campus on “The City Centre for Everyone” held 31st May – 2nd June 2017 in Belfast, was a great success:
The objective of the Belfast Urban Thinkers Campus (UTC) was to assist the implementation stage of the New Urban Agenda by focusing on several of the World Urban Campaign’s “The City We Need” principles, namely how to make cities more 1) socially inclusive and engaging; 2) affordable, equitable and inclusive; 3) economically vibrant and inclusive; and 4) safe, healthy and promoting well-being.

“The City Centre for Everyone”

A prevailing issue seen in many cities, is that lower income communities, often located in a ring around the city centre and often burdened with high levels of unemployment and deprivation, generally do not benefit from the nearby economic prosperity and social, educational and health facilities at the core of the city. The city centre and communities at the circumference tend to feel detached and segregated from each other. And there is a sense of threat of new occupants in the city centre. Belfast is one such city challenged with just this, and thus the “The City Centre for Everyone” was the focus of the UTC Belfast.
Belfast is a post-industrial city with a ring of communities encircling the city centre. While Belfast has reasonably good social housing, the communities are not thriving. Both the City Council and the university, have identified the problem of the integration of these communities with the city centre, new private housing and student housing. Due to Belfast’s history, and a general sense of distance with the city centre, still today Belfast has trouble integrating its communities in the city centre. The emphasis of this UTC was to get an understanding of why this is happening and how this problem is to be addressed, and to identify solutions which could foster some sense of integration of communities with the city centre. This UTC gathered expertise from the UK and Ireland together with an array of international expertise to focus on knowledge exchange and possible best practices relevant to Belfast in particular, and applicable in similar scenarios.

The Urban Thinkers’ Thoughts

The 3-day UTC event comprised of presentations, discussions, study tours, and informal conversations, resulting in an agreed upon Action Plan. Urban Labs were the vehicles for gathering the thoughts and inputs of our experts and participants, and coming up with relevant scenarios, and for drafting the main action points. Here are some of the points addressed:
To ensure people of all ages in inner cities can access education and employment, there is the need for more and better visibility, to inform on employment opportunities; better coordination, to facilitate the sharing of information; partnerships, to work collaboratively towards the shared goal of enhancing long-term employment outcomes and economic growth; and anticipate future changes in employment: arising from technological advances and the redundancy of certain jobs / roles as a consequence of this.
To ensure inner city communities feel more physically integrated into the city, and that affordable housing is delivered alongside private housing and student housing in an inclusive and equitable city, Belfast City Council and the social housing groups should consider ways of spreading the social housing across the city to avoid concentration; focus on mixed use to create new vibrant urban fabric for the citizens; create a communications
strategy to promote citizens’ engagement and participation; assess best case practices as a source of inspiration.
To ensure the health and wellbeing of inner city communities there is a need to raise awareness and promote health and planning, as well as to promote more effective local planning. Planning should be acknowledged as a key tool enabling the health and well-being of citizens. Planning legislators should incorporate legislation pertaining to health into the planning system for a more effective adoption of health led planning approaches. Academia should use its experts and its authority to promote health in planning, strengthen health and well-being components within planning degrees, and contribute to the growing evidence base of how the built environment can influence health and the effectiveness of planning interventions on this issue. The City Council should develop a delivery plan to improve life expectancy, and commit to proactively engaging with planners, and to raise awareness of planning impact, as well as to increase capacity building.
To ensure ‘citizens response’ in the successful implementation of urban policies, empowering the citizens of Belfast to participate effectively in decision-making processes is a must to deepen the ‘Civic Capital’ of the City of Belfast. This calls for engendering a sense of belonging and ownership among all the inhabitants, fostering social cohesion, inclusion, and safety in peaceful and pluralistic societies, where the needs of all inhabitants are met. This also calls for commitment to sustainably leverage natural and cultural heritage in cities and human settlements, which are of deep value to the citizens of the city and the region.
To enhance the links between inner city neighbourhoods and their city centres, there is the need to prevent urban sprawl, and to prevent the suburban flight of culturally- and economically- active community members. Many cities, but Belfast in particular, are faced with significant physical barriers to movement for some inner-city communities. In Belfast, the Westlink and the East Side ‘shatter zone’ keep communities physically isolated and inward-looking. For Belfast, there is also the need to overcome psychological and cultural barriers. The removal of physical barriers is a first step to overcoming this. Also, the need to create equable ‘meeting spaces’ for all communities is paramount. The municipality should also consider using integrating civic/public uses within new development proposals as a catalyst.
This Urban Thinkers Campus was held in partnership with the Belfast City Council; the Royal Town Planning Institute; the Town and Country Planning Association; Ulster University; the Royal Society of Ulster Architects; the Academy of Urbanism; the Ministerial Advisory Group; the Commonwealth Association of Planners; the Institute of Civil Engineers; and the Irish Planning Institute.
34 professionals in the fields of urban planning, economic development, architecture, housing, urban governance and leadership participated as Speakers and Urban Lab Leaders, sharing their knowledge, raising questions, and challenging the participants to express their concerns and their visions, in order to identify potential solutions through a collective effort and to agree in actions that will assist in making cities more cohesive, inclusive and fair to everyone. Over one hundred delegates attended the event. There was good representation from key stakeholder groups including: NGOs, Public Sector, Private Sector, Academics, Students, Community Leaders, Politicians and Civil Society.

For inquiries about the UTC in Belfast, please contact project manager Andreia Fidalgo via 
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