Belfast City Council is to explore ways it can reimagine its city centre and learn from other cities to create public spaces and streets which are child-friendly and encourage learning.
Members of the Council’s City Growth and Regeneration Committee last month agreed to apply for the ‘Streets for Kids’ programme which provides technical guidance and advanced street designs to create safe public spaces for children of all ages and abilities to learn, play, and move around the city.
The Council is making a joint application with Belfast Healthy Cities to the programme – an initiative of the US National Association of City Transportation Officials’ Global Designing Cities Initiative (NACTO-GDCI).
Councillor Donal Lyons, chair of the City Growth and Regeneration Committee said: “Last year’s fire at Bank Buildings, and the impact that has had on our city centre, has prompted us to look at how our public spaces are used. We are committed to restoring our city centre to the very vibrant place we know it to be; but that includes exploring new ideas and taking this opportunity to reimagine how our city centre might look – how, if you like, we put it back together again and create something new.
“Over recent months, in tandem with our city partners, we have been exploring best practice in urban design and piloting new ideas. Currently we’re developing a pop-up park at Castle Place, due to open later this month, and the inspiration behind it has been to create a space specifically for children to actively learn and explore, in the heart of our city centre.
“The ‘Streets for Kids’ programme takes that thinking one step further and would mean that Council would have the opportunity to benefit from specialist training and technical assistance in the design of urban spaces for children.”
Grainia Long, Commissioner for Resilience for Belfast, added: “The timing of this application is particularly fitting as we design our Resilience Strategy for the city, and examine ways in which we can prepare for and reduce the impact of city shocks and stresses – the fire at Bank Buildings being a prime example.
“An emerging theme in our early engagement on this issue is the importance of designing a city that supports a positive childhood for all. There is evidence that urban spaces which support healthy child development also contribute to improved health for all our citizens in terms of cleaner air, improved mobility, inclusion and tackling loneliness – and these are all ambitions within the Belfast Agenda.”
Working with Arup as a strategic partner, Belfast’s Resilience Commissioner is actively examining ways in which Belfast can learn from other cities globally to plan an empowering and healthy environment for children to enable them to thrive. Later this year, Belfast’s Resilience Commissioner will host a conference to create and share ideas to support early childhood in urban settings, bringing together city leaders, development partners, designers, engineers and innovators.
From 2019-2021, NACTO-GDCI will work directly with successful cities to reimagine and redesign streets to support comfortable, healthy and inspiring environments for children.
Joan Devlin, Chief Executive Belfast Healthy Cities added: “Belfast Healthy Cities, as part of the World Health Organization Healthy City agenda, has been engaging with children across Belfast, through the Child Friendly Places programme, using various models to encourage children’s voices to be heard in shaping their local environment.
“Through the Healthy Places, Healthy Children online resource, children develop proposals to significantly enhance local neighbourhoods to be more child friendly, supporting active, inclusive and healthier lifestyles for children. A child-friendly environment creates a healthy urban environment for people of all ages. The Streets for Kids initiative will allow us to work with Belfast City Council to further engage key stakeholders across the city in the Child Friendly Places agenda, improving the local environment for the benefit of our children and young people.”
Image: © Marcos Moura