Urban Strategies aids in transforming city centre of Belfast

Toronto-based Urban Strategies has unveiled its plans to assist Northern Ireland’s capital city of Belfast regain its position as an internationally recognized centre of innovation and global trade.

Joe Berridge, a partner in the firm, was one of the main presenters at a recent conference entitled “Belfast; Future City” alongside Northern Ireland’s First Minister Peter Robinson, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuiness and the Lord Mayor of Belfast, Councillor Nichola Mallon.

After more than 30 years of civil unrest, Belfast has made great strides during the past 20 years and has seen a huge increase in tourism, attracting Foreign Direct Investment and infrastructure developments. The city, which at the turn of the 20th century was recognized globally as a leader in industries such as shipbuilding and linen, is keen to regain its status as a world-class city and Berridge has been appointed by Belfast City Council to help provide a new vision and investment strategy to guide the growth of Belfast‘s centre for the next 20 years.

Significant reinvestment in new office, retail and housing developments in the remarkably successful Titanic Quarter and in riverfront and public realm improvements has underlined the positive future ahead. The University of Ulster is establishing a new campus in the city centre and office employment is showing a significant rise.

The Urban Strategies plan emphasizes the need to promote major increases in the centre’s living and working population, and secure its future as the retail centre of the region. The centre needs a comprehensive makeover to reflect a greener, more pedestrian-friendly future, and foster the growing food and music scene – not just for locals, but to support increasing tourism and business visitation. The plan also sets out to deliberately dismantle the many physical barriers between the centre and the surrounding communities.

Two overarching goals inspire the plan. The first is to confirm the city centre’s role as the principal wealth creator for Northern Ireland and help generate the economic growth the region and its communities critically need. The second is to make the centre a shared space, a safe place and common ground where the disparate communities of the city can come together to live, work, play and enjoy themselves. As Berridge notes, “The city has had a troubled past and the scars and tensions are still visible. The creation of a place that is welcoming and home to all will be important for a shared future. This is one of the most interesting assignments I have ever had. It is unprecedented to be able to help a major city and it is also a challenge to figure out how city planning can be used to help mend a fractured city and unite its communities.”

Berridge has advised on planning and development strategies for city centres, waterfronts and major redevelopment projects in world cities in North America, Europe and Asia. In the UK he has had an on-going involvement in the transformation of Manchester into a leading post-industrial city and was strategic planning advisor for the reconstruction of its city centre after a massive 1996 terrorist bombing. He has played an important role in regeneration strategies for Liverpool and for the Tottenham district of London after the 2012 riots. He has been the master planner for many London Docklands developments and was involved with the early stages of Canary Wharf. In Toronto, Berridge was master-planning coordinator for the first decade of Waterfront Toronto’s transformation of the city’s lakefront, as well as being a major advisor on the Toronto region’s growth management and transportation plans. He has created development plans for Governors Island in New York Harbor, waterfront plans for Cork, Ireland, Singapore and San Juan, Puerto Rico, and downtown plans for St. Louis and Detroit in the US and for Sudbury and Oakville in Ontario. Joe is Adjunct Professor in the Program in Planning and a Fellow of the School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Toronto.

Urban Strategies is one of the world’s leading urban design, planning and development consulting companies with projects across Canada, the US, Europe and Asia. Based in Toronto, its 12 partners combine backgrounds in city planning, architecture and landscape architecture, development consulting and public administration to provide a comprehensive approach to the realisation of urban opportunities. The award-winning firm of over 50 professional staff has achieved a reputation for innovative and professional work and for first-rate communications.

For more information, please visit www.urbanstrategies.com/news/belfast-city-centre-plan-news/.