Episode 01: Belfast
Belfast is a city within which questions of access, movement through the city, safety, and the answerability of local governance exist in relation to explicit histories of sectarianism, ongoing questions of identity and the relationship between Belfast's position on the island of Ireland but within the political control of the United Kingdom.
In this context urban planning produces complex breaks and gaps in the fabric of the city as it takes into account the history of the Troubles (the decades long sectarian violence), the relationship with and rule from London, and the interface between control and infrastructure.
At first encounter Belfast appears like many post-industrial cities, where the managed decline of manufacturing over the past century has laid bare tracts of property into which real-estate capital is now rapidly expanding. Large areas of 19th century back-to-back terraces, formerly housing mill and factory workers, and patchworks of leafy suburbs nestle around a city centre featuring shopping districts and imposing limestone colonial-era buildings, with detailing influenced by Italian immigrant populations, much like Glasgow, Liverpool, Nottingham, or Rotterdam.
Learning to navigate the city, however, it gradually becomes evident that specific conditions distinguish Belfast from other superficially similar cities.
Infrastructure such as motorways has a visibility as a tool for maintaining gaps between demographics with a visibility which is downplayed in most European cities.
The employment of infrastructure as boundary disguised as connection exists in all cities, but in Belfast has a visibility which is downplayed in most European cities. Motorways and other Infrastructure in Belfast have been used to control and divide communities throughout the last century, both separating classes, and segregating working class communities hardest hit by ‘The Troubles’.
Twenty years on from the ‘Good Friday Agreement’, the ceasefire which constructed a nuanced and at-times fragile peace, the city still a complex experience of looping routes, arterial roads, inner city car parks and inadequate parking, and
Pockets of community and circular diversions characterise parts of Belfast, controlled as much by the architecture of transit as by the Peace Walls and gated streets. In a repeat of history, the still incomplete motorway interchange is due to be extended and broadened in the coming years, digging deep trenches and nine meter walls through the city and expanding and redirecting traffic toward the small enclave of the contemporary Sailortown community.