Have you ever wondered how to bring back community feeling in busy city life? How the rich culture of the joint family system has served various nations together, preserving family values and morals. Due to rapid urbanization, cities are becoming fewer children or youth-centric, which should be different from the case as they are our future citizens and will serve the nation.

Belfast, the capital city of Northern Ireland and one of the largest cities of Northern Ireland, is on the banks of River Lagan on the east coast, making it the 12th largest city in the United Kingdom, with 345,418 population in 2021. 35% of the population is under 25 years of age. The innovative and revolutionary project by Arup and Arup associates with the support of the Resilient Cities Network has created a youth-centric project to support the dreams and aspirations of youth and children and make city centres attractive for their families. This project has received many national and international awards, like Landscape Institute Awards in the 2020 ‘Excellence in Place Regeneration’ category.

Belfast Urban Childhoods Masterplan by Arup Associates and Arup -Sheet1
View of Northern Ireland_https://www.planetware.com/pictures/northern-ireland-ni.htm

Background study

In August 2018, a fire destroyed Bank and ancient historic buildings in Belfast. 60% decline was observed in the footfall in the city centre area. therefore, it gives birth to new design ideas and interventions to re-imagine the space to utilise it in the most optimum way. There were some prior challenges that the open areas have faced that majorly affected the youth and families:

  • Lack of open spaces designed for varied activities for the youth and children.
  • Lack of pedestrian-friendly areas
  • Unsafe spaces due to heavy vehicles and traffic
Belfast Urban Childhoods Masterplan by Arup Associates and Arup -Sheet2
View of Belfast City, Northern Ireland_https://village-estates.co.uk/blog-box-view/1454924560/1619108861/top-10-reasons-to-live-in-belfast?from_page=%2FMarket%2520Updates%3Fpage%3D6&post_width=full_width

Analysing various problems in the city, Belfast City Council decided to take a strategic approach to develop the city centre and various other parts in its vicinity. Arup Associates helped them to create more connected, safe, open spaces in the heritage areas. The project outcome was to create a healthy, children-centric city if the design is suitable for children; it is good for all.

Healthy and well-connected urban environment_https://www.arup.com/projects/urban-childhoods-masterplan-belfast

Design strategy

According to the Former Mayor of Bogota, Enrique Penalosa,” Children are indicator species for cities; if they work for kids, they work for everyone. The converse is also true: cities that do not work for children are not working for anyone. “Dima Zogheib explained it, Associate Director Arup “, taking a kid perspective will help us handle many challenges of urban planning factors like wheelchair users, older people, women, and caretakers who are often neglected while planning or designing a particular space. The design strategy was to make Belfast a well-connected, prosperous, sustainable, culturally vibrant city. Arup provided sessions with guided tools to Belfast City Council and Youth Workers. They took place in communities based on the city’s periphery, which were purposefully avoided from the spaces surrounded by roads during the Northern Irish conflict. Citizens through light upon the fact that they were familiar with the city centre but did not feel any connection to that place. Therefore, there were ideas to reconnect- by making public space more interactive and fun.

The result of this participation and engagement work is the Urban Childhoods Toolkit, launched in 2020, which had tools, replicable design interventions, and ideas that solved city planning strategies.

It supported local government and communities with the help of child and family-friendly interventions like-

  • Utilising empty plots- By creating places for children’s activities.
  • Improving urban fabric- Analyzing walking tracks and connections to heritage sites.
  • Activating open spaces- through temporary and permanent design solutions.
Belfast Urban Childhoods Masterplan by Arup Associates and Arup -Sheet4
Design strategy for Belfast_https://www.arup.com/projects/urban-childhoods-masterplan-belfast

Project learnings as a designer

Designing according to children’s and family needs is a crucial step in city and regional planning. Not only this but post-pandemic also, more research on the built environment focuses on reducing inequalities should be used in designing and planning built spaces. 

  • Inclusive for all: A systematic design approach that considers how built space plays a vital role in the growth of adult lives. The child and family-friendly approach has been a catalyst for social change. 
  • Community participation- Involving the community, especially children in age groups 6 to 11 years and 12 to 18 years, to understand their perspective of various places. As Richard McLernon has correctly pointed out, Resilience Project Coordinator at Belfast City Council, this project places children and young people at the heart of the city’s work for more resilient-centric design to address future challenges. 
  • Answering the needs of the inhabitants- all the physical interventions that were made aim to respect the existing context and create an environment for the family to live, work and play. Affordable housing, green open spaces, sports facilities, and traffic improvements were a part of these interventions, supported by 50 global case studies and deep-rooted research on future city planning for inspiration. 
  • Utilising urban voids- Utilizing empty plots and underutilised voids of the city to bring out the best environment for the people. Tiny and critical design interventions include pop-up play parks and many more that not only bring vibrancy to the city but also change the people’s perception and strongly support the idea that small things make a difference. 
  • Setting an example globally- This child and the family-centric project got recognised for its approach at Landscape Institute Awards 2020 in the ‘Excellence in Place Regeneration’ category. 
Belfast Urban Childhoods Masterplan by Arup Associates and Arup -Sheet5
Temporary and permanent interventions_https://www.arup.com/projects/urban-childhoods-masterplan-belfast


  •  An article by Future of London, 2022- https://www.futureoflondon.org.uk/2021/09/17/belfast-urban-childhoods/
  • An article by Arup Consultant, 2022-  https://www.arup.com/projects/urban-childhoods-masterplan-belfast
  • Identity & Language (Northern Ireland) Act 2022, Northern Ireland Encylopidia Britannica. Achieved from the original on 14 August 2021. Retrieved 11 October 2015  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northern_Ireland
  • Article by Lechner Non-profit Ltd. https://cities4children.org/knowledgebase/belfast-urban-childhoods-masterplan-bringing-families-back-to-the-city-2/
  • Article by Cities 4 Children Global Alliance  http://okosvaros.lechnerkozpont.hu/en/node/1086
  • Report Belfast – WHO Healthy Cities – Designing places for Children & young people https://www.belfasthealthycities.com/sites/default/files/publications/Designing%20Places%20CYP%20FINAL.pdf

Ayushi Saini is a 5th year student of Bachelor’s of Architecture, interested in exploring various cities and design or planning strategies. Always busy investigating different urban design theories and practices and upcoming design solutions, writing about it is one of her aspirations which she is going to fulfill through RTF.