The work of housing campaigners in Belfast so far has shown just how many barriers there are to achieving the most basic steps towards a fair and vibrant Belfast. It is hard at times for communities to stay positive when they are told that nothing can be different and a better life is always unaffordable. But that negative message is a betrayal of a shared future. Change is possible, it's happening in Belfast and in communities across the globe.
As we recover from the pandemic it's vital that we don’t let the opportunity of a better life slip by because today’s decision makers lack the imagination to see a different future.
There is a rich menu of possibilities that can be used to build a better Belfast and no shortage of people with the skills to make it happen.
Cooperative housing for older women to combat loneliness, local food growing and community gardening to produce affordable and healthy food, self-build for the homeless, local community owned energy companies investing profits back into home insulation and councils, the NHS and big institutions like universities buying local to support jobs and businesses. All of this amounts to a kinder economy where human health and well-being are the top priority. And it goes without saying that Belfast could be zero carbon and seize all the economic opportunities of the new technologies on the road to a sustainable future.
All of these solutions are viable now and being delivered in many other cities.
So why not Belfast and why not on Mackies? Why should the people of north and west Belfast not be the beneficiaries of a world leading example of sustainable neighbourhood development - involved in decisions about every square inch of the land they live on?
Imagine what could happen. Everyone would have a decent healthy home at an affordable price and be able live their lives free from fear and insecurity - warm and cheap to heat, powered by renewable energy from the local community cooperative that invested its profits back into the community.
Homes with decent sized rooms with space to eat your dinner at a table, somewhere for the kids to do their homework and enough storage space for life necessities. Space to work at home if you need to and your own garden or access to a community garden with space to grow your own food. Safe streets surrounded by green space and green-ways and trees for shade where space for pedestrians comes before cars.
You'll be able to walk to the local school and shop so buying a pint of milk would also keep you fit. A perfect place for cyclists to enjoy safe roads making it easier to take exercise to be healthy and create less pollution.
Belfast’s communities could be rich with wildlife complimenting the beautiful mountains, parks and coastline by enhancing nature and not destroying it.
Community cafes and spaces to meet and socialise. Community ownership of the key assets needed to sustain the good life for generations to come like energy and housing. A vibrant economy that doesn’t lay you off when you become surplus to requirements and embraces social enterprise and small and medium sized business. Pipe dreams? All of that is happening in cities like Belfast already.
Every city can make a promise to the future that is not a pipe dream. Why not join in on the conversation over the next while and see where it goes? Sure what have you got to lose?
Join the conversation with Hugh...
Ths Status Quo is Not an Option - Building a Sustainable Belfast - Online Seminar.
10-11:30AM, Thursday 24 June 2021. Click Here To Register
Hugh is Policy Director at the Town and Country Planning Association(TCPA), where he leads on policy development, briefings and engagement with central government and politicians.
Hugh has co-authored three books, including ‘Rebuilding Britain’ and ‘Town Planning in Crisis’ with Kate Henderson, and ‘The Art of Building a Garden City’ with Katy Lock and Kate Henderson.
He has led on TCPA campaign work on 'planning out poverty' and planning for people, and he is a strong critic of policies such as Permitted Development.
Hugh sits on the UK Government Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) Planning Sounding Board.
He has a Doctorate in Land Use Planning from the University of Sheffield, and he is an Honorary Professor at Queens University, Belfast.