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Urban Childhoods Masterplan, Belfast, Northern Ireland

Belfast Urban Childhoods Masterplan: bringing families back to the city

Cities are becoming less inclusive for children. The youngest in society – our future citizens – have been increasingly side-lined, leaving us with city centres and suburbs that can restrict the freedom of children and potentially expose them to health and development risks.

With 35% of Belfast’s population aged 25 or under, Belfast City Council recognised the need to design for the youngest in the population and place them at the heart of city planning. With support from the Resilient Cities Network (R-Cities), and working closely with Belfast City Council, Arup developed a framework and design strategy that creates a more healthy, inclusive and child-friendly city centre in Belfast. 

The vision and design strategy work together to address the resilience challenges facing the city. These include the prevalence of car use, climate change, air pollution, drop in footfall and a lack of housing in the core of the city centre to support economic recovery and sustainable development. The design strategy incorporates a range of physical interventions that aim to promote connectivity through placemaking and active travel schemes, in addition to the retrofit of existing urban landscapes to bring people back to Belfast’s city centre.

Project Summary

35% of Belfast's population is aged 25 or under

500mof transformed streets proposed for children and families

An inclusive city

Our team of urban design, landscape architecture and urban resilience experts adopted a systematic design approach that not only responds to the immediate needs of children but considers the important role the built environment plays at all stages of development into their adult lives. This child-friendly approach delivers benefits for all citizens and brings together important agendas such as sustainability and resilience to act as a catalyst for positive change. 

Co-designing with children

Involving children in the design process was a core principle to our approach. We engaged with children from different age groups (6-11 years) and (12-18 years) to understand their perceptions and aspirations for their city centre. The feedback shaped our analysis of the project study area, our design strategy and recommendations to shape a city that's inclusive and allows people from all generations to thrive.

The project places children and young people at the heart of the city’s work to become more resilient as we address future city challenges ” Richard McLernon Resilience Project Coordinator, Belfast City Council

Proposal plan Proposal plan
Design strategy and principles within Belfast

Responding to the needs of the city

The design strategies proposed are made up of a number of physical interventions that aim to address existing constraints in the city centre and create an environment where families and children can live, work and play. These include new and affordable housing, green open spaces, traffic improvements and sports facilities. The interventions were supported by a collection of more than 50 global case studies that demonstrate how interventions have contributed to the vibrancy of different cities across the world. These can be used as sources of inspiration and as a resource for future city planning.

Creating an environment where bottom-up grassroots initiatives can be given a chance to thrive was equally important. Utilising empty plots and underutilised spaces to test new uses and diversify the land use was recommended to improve the vibrancy of the city. Small scale meanwhile uses interventions including a pop-up play park have been used to test some of these ideas, and change people’s perceptions of Belfast’s city centre prior to permanent implementation. 

Building a legacy for Belfast City Council

Supporting Belfast City Council’s aspiration to replicate the ideas, we developed an Urban Childhoods Design Toolkit to initiate masterplanning and design processes by assessing, prioritising and proposing child and family-friendly interventions. The design toolkit provides a range of different tools and practical templates to be used as a guide to assist the design process and implement lasting change.

The project was recognised for its uniqueness and importance at the Landscape Institute Awards 2020 winning in the 'Excellence in Place Regeneration' category.

The Urban Childhoods Design Toolkit shared with Belfast City Council provides a range of resources to assist the design process by assessing, prioritising and proposing child-friendly interventions. 
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