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In the 1980s, Belfast shared many of the problems seen in UK de-industrialized cities – lack of economic opportunity, crime and poverty. Simultaneously the city was badly damaged by The Troubles, an ethno-nationalist conflict, which saw the city physically divided according to ethno-religious identities, with conflict interfaces predominately in low-income neighborhoods.

The Good Friday Agreement (1998) effectively ended violence and reduced residential segregation, but neighborhood-level inequities continued, leading some to call Belfast a “twin-speed city.” Residents had a sense that local and central government were not effectively solving their problems and thus multiple strong and active community organizations sought to fill that gap.

There are multiple examples of community-led change in Belfast that have affected the city council’s approach to strategic planning. One organization that is partnering on this project, Participation and the Practice of Rights (PPR), a local, non-sectarian non-governmental organization, has spearheaded a range of economic, social and environmental justice campaigns. This included “Take Back the City,” which highlighted the lack of social housing in the city and the implications of growing income disparities.

Other communities across the city have led major environmental regeneration schemes, such as the Connswater Community Greenway, which combined physical infrastructure renewal (parkland, watercourses, footpaths/cycleways and a linear greenway) with community participation and programs. Passing through seven of the top 25% most deprived wards in Northern Ireland, the Greenway has been credited with bringing about dramatic change for residents’ health and wellbeing.



Photo: Geraint Ellis

Geraint Ellis, Professor in the School of Natural and Built Environment at Queen’s University, Belfast. Ellis holds a doctorate in City and Regional Planning from Cardiff University (UK) and an MPhil in Environmental Planning from University of Reading (UK). His research interests lie in the broad field of spatial planning and sustainability, with a particular emphasis on environmental governance, renewable energy, marine spatial planning, environmental justice and equality issues in planning. Ellis is Editor of the Journal of Environmental Policy and Planning and Associate Editor of the Cities & Health journal. He is active in the Northern Ireland voluntary sector, having been a Board Director of Belfast Healthy Cities and currently Chairs a refugee support group and Whitehead Small World Group.

Photo: Agustina Martire

Agustina Martire, Senior Lecturer in the School of Natural and Built Environment at Queen’s University, Belfast in Northern Ireland. Martire has a PhD in Urban History from Technische Universiteit Delft (Netherlands) and a professional architecture qualification from Universidad de Buenos Aires. Her research focuses on street life, community engagement and urban regeneration. Martire advises a range of local NGOs including Participation and the Practice of Rights (PPR) and Northern Ireland Ministerial Advisory Group for Architecture and Built Environment; and is board member of Sailortown Regeneration and founding member of Belfast Cycling Campaign. She is the editor of the book: Everyday Streets, Inclusive approaches to understanding and designing streets, published by UCL Press in May 2023.

Participation and the Practice of Rights (PPR) was formed in 2006 by Inez McCormack, a leading Irish Trade Unionist. PPR aims to translate international human rights standards into grassroots tools for economic, social and environmental change. It runs campaigns on rights to mental health, income, housing and digital resources, each supported by community and voluntary groups, politicians, activist networks, funders and international collaborators in Scotland, South Africa, USA, England and elsewhere.