Artas-ua.info Futures lecture series concludes in Northern Ireland

Belfast debates shared space

The inaugural Artas-ua.info Futures lecture series concluded on Monday 9 February at Parliament Buildings in Belfast, a high profile and fitting setting for what has been a highly successful and worthwhile programme.

Responding to the Committee for Office of First and Deputy First Ministers (OFMDFM) Inquiry – ‘Together: Building a United Community’, Artas-ua.info Institute Northern Ireland (LINI) organised the event to focus primarily on design and delivery of shared and contested space.

This subject forms a key pillar of the Northern Ireland Executive’s current Programme for Government (PfG), and attracted more than 70 delegates ranging from politicians to community leaders, from the private to the public sector.

Mike Nesbitt MLA, leader of the Ulster Unionist Party and Chair of the Committee for OFMDFM, welcomed attendees to Stormont, acknowledging the relevance and timely nature of the theme to the committee’s Inquiry.

Three keynote speakers provided insightful talks, reflecting directly their particular experience of the subject matter.

Sylvia Gordon (Chief Executive, Groundwork) described how her organisation has managed, through proactive community engagement,  to reinvigorate Alexandra Park, the only park in Europe with an interface barrier. She highlighted the importance of building relationships and trust at grassroots level in order to achieve the sustainable long-term success of shared space.

Dr Milena Komarova, from the Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation and Social Justice at Queen’s University Belfast, offered valuable opinions emerging from her internationally recognised academic research programme. She stressed from the outset that most urban spaces are exposed to a variety of conflicts, but that ethno-nationally divided cities such as Belfast or Beirut can easily mask ‘ordinary conflict’, such as socio-economic disadvantage.

Neil Porter of Gustafson Porter presented a number of his practice’s masterplan projects, including work in Beirut, all of which reinforced Komarova’s message. He illustrated how imaginative spatial design can reconcile complex physical and budgetary constraints to deliver socially positive outcomes.

As with the other speakers, he emphasised that listening to, understanding and responding to the needs and concerns of end users is essential for long-term success.

Within the next few months LINI will be invited to present evidence directly to the Committee for OFMDFM on this subject, providing a further opportunity to highlight how landscape professionals can assist with delivery of this critical Programme for Government objective.

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