In this episode we follow designer Kate Catterall on a route around Belfast, following the traces of something that no longer exists - at least not physically...
The Infinite City is produced by Rebekah McCabe and Conor McCafferty for PLACE, with assistance from Maria Postanogova and Stuart Gray. Music for this episode was composed by Conor McCafferty. The podcast is supported by Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios and Arts and Business Northern Ireland.
See more episode notes and an episode transcription below.
Find out more about Kate and her work at www.katecatterall.com
TRANSCRIPT: The Infinite City - Season 1 Episode 2
Kate: Remembering the Ring of Steel
Released 10 May 2018
Conor McCafferty [CMC]: This is the Infinite City - stories from Belfast of people and place. I’m Conor McCafferty.
Rebekah McCabe [RMC]: And I’m Rebekah McCabe.
Kate Catterall [KC]: Shall we jaywalk, yeah? When in Belfast you can definitely jaywalk.
RMC: In this episode we walk a route around the city, following the traces of something that no longer exists. At least not physically. We’re following Kate Catterall, a designer who left Belfast in the 1980s. Returning to visit her home city in subsequent years, she was aware of changes - new buildings were going up, old businesses closing down and new ones opening in their place. But it was another change that had the biggest impact…
KC: This is not the city I remember. And it’s not the place that I recall. It looks different. It feels different. And looking back now the thing that was different was the barricades. It was open, and you’d walk past and you’d remember. And you’d step over it in a sort of way, it’s uncanny, you’d think ‘it’s not here anymore, what happened to that’ even though you know logically what happened but it feels like it’s still there…
CMC: On a grey day in June, we meet Kate at the junction of Royal Avenue and North Street. She’s home on a visit from Austin Texas, where she now lives. She’s back to see family and catch up with friends. But it’s a working holiday too. She’s been busy in Golden Thread, one of Belfast’s local galleries, bringing people together to do something that is at once deeply personal and dangerously political - to remember the past.
KC: This is Garfield Street and Royal Avenue and this is one of the streets I was looking at and trying to find boltholes of where the barricades might have been. It’s hard in some places to figure it out. On some of the streets you find one set of four boltholes of about the right size and height. On other streets you’re thinking, is it could be a canopy or a sign that went up after? In other streets buildings were built long after they were taken down and you can’t see, or the buildings have gone completely.
CMC: We’re following the route of a security system that was installed in Belfast in the early 1970s. It became known as the ring of steel. It was a response to a growing threat from paramilitaries, who saw the city centre as a legitimate economic target for their bombing campaign...
KC: Well, they were phased in from about 1972 and at first they were very ad hoc pieces of concrete, crowd control stuff like they would use today but it was all sort of bundled together. Primarily I remember soldiers being the ones that sort of checked everybody and the idea was that if you could protect the downtown commerce could keep going and everyday life to a certain extent could proceed. But in fact it created this odd space where all of the citizenry became both secured but suspects. And it really transformed I think how we viewed ourselves.
RMC: The ring of steel was of a series of barricades, some of which were simply fences and gates that rendered certain streets and alleyways impassable, while others were more complex checkpoints controlling the movement of vehicles so they could be checked at key routes into the city centre.
CMC: At the entrance points, pedestrians coming into the city centre were also subject to searches, something like the security checks that have become standard in airports. If you had bags with you, they were searched, and you were scanned with a hand held metal detector before being allowed through the gates and into the city centre…
KC: But every store, once you went in...so you go into Boots, which is still in the same place… and you had to open your bag. It made me feel scrutinised. And safe at the same time. Yeah. I felt watched. And I felt paranoid, like am I a bad person? I was only a kid, you know? And if someone would ask me a question, I’d be like, I don’t know, maybe I did! I’m not sure.
RMC: Searches were a routine part of life in Belfast: the accepted cost for a relatively secure city centre. This routine was so normalised for Kate that she found it hard to shake, even when she left Belfast to attend college in Glasgow
KC: But you leave and go to college somewhere else and you walk into Boots on Sauchiehall Street and you open your bag and put your arms out to get searched and people are like ‘What?’. You know, it’s like there’s this echo that comes with you into another place and you look like a weirdo...
RMC: We head south for a bit on Royal Avenue, before turning right, onto Berry Street, where we’re faced with what appears at first to be a dead end. Like a lot of streets in the core of Belfast, Berry Street has been transformed over the years: once you could have walked down Berry Street from Royal Avenue to get to the old Smithfield Square, a traditional market area in the city centre.
CMC: Today, Berry street is cut in two by the service yard of the Castle Court shopping centre. We’ll talk more about Castle Court, and how it transformed the cityscape, in a later episode. But today, walking with Kate, we saunter down the street to contemplate an imposing red brick wall adorned with artworks conveying nostalgic images of the past.
KC: It has the aesthetics of a barrier in some respects. It doesn’t have the barbed wire but it does have railings that go up above. And the artwork is a throwback to some other century because God forbid we talk about anything that happened in the last 50 years. The safe territory is to theme the more distant past and you know these things are sort of noticeable in the urban environment here. It’s not necessarily for us, you know the locals or the expatriates coming back, it’s for some tourist who’s been imagined, it’s some projection of a reality that I don’t recall.
RMC: We follow the new Berry Street in a 90 degree bend around the wall of the service yard, towards Bank Square. On the way, Kate points out the mishmash of materials that make up the built fabric. Though the service wall has been dressed up with artwork to soften its presence on the area, the street feels very much like a back alley - there are no shopfronts and few windows overlooking the street.
KC: I don’t know how tourists respond; They probably think, oh that’s lovely, that’s really nice! But in a way to me it’s sort of a lie. It’s a projection of not even what we hope the future will be in Northern Ireland, it’s more of a negation of what that past was, what that immediate past was, and I don’t think that’s a terribly healthy thing. But I’m an outsider now, I’m an expatriate, I’ve lived half my life in America. I’m one of those awful Americans that I’d have hated coming home to say stuff...
CMC: We cross Bank Square to reach the northern end of Queen Street and a former warehouse that was built in 1919. On a walk that Kate had organised the previous week as part of her research, people identified this corner as the location of one of the barricades.
KC: This nice little building here which is a sandstone facade and is now a gallery of some kind - Platform - but we thought we saw evidence of the attachments right here. We’re not 100% and can’t tell on the other side because there’s new fascia over there, no clue. But this is the consensus of the 3 or 4 older people, sort of in their late 40s early 50s, and you look across here and we have some Troubles era infrastructural stuff and layers of urban decay basically, right in the centre of an area that’s being regenerated and sort of concealed and covered up.
RMC: Gap sites and surface car parks, like the one Kate points out, are everywhere in Belfast city centre. They are a hangover of rapid depopulation of the city core. Not only the Troubles, but also car-centric urban planning meant that people fled, or were moved, to suburbs and towns outside the city centre from the 1960s on. Their departure left numerous unused spaces in their wake.
CMC: Sites like these are a visual blight on a city trying to reinvent itself and seek a brighter, prosperous future. But, even while looking forward, Kate sees value in taking time to reflect: in a city rushing to catch up in its development, there is a risk of removing all the physical traces and connections to place that are still in people’s living memory...
KC: But it’s sort of comforting to me that there’s still some backstreets and some layers. I don’t know why. And I’ve been accused by a friend of doing some Troubles era nostalgia thing, and I said, no no no. I’m just interested in daily life and the fact that your kids have no idea how you grew up. And sharing those sort of stories, using our black humour, those funny memories, not all the trauma and the disaster, which was layered in there, but life went on. And you remember the sort of weird gaming arcades down here, you know, the 147 club, where people went to play games all day long. Pacman was the thing back in 82 or 83.
CMC: Walking south down College Avenue, we skirt the edge of the former ring of steel. Kate recounts a particularly memorable occasion when she was searched going through the barricades.
KC: I’ve a memory of being a young teenager maybe 13 or 14 and tipping my bag out when I was being searched and tampons and sanitary pads coming out, and you’re with your first boyfriend and you sort of die on the spot. Bright Red. Humiliated. And that’s what I remember. And I was talking to a woman who trained as a doctor here, just started in Queens in 1969, and she said that the houses of residence kept getting bomb threats, or there was something nearby and they’d keep having to come out. So she said ‘I’d put on my dressing gown and my best nighty and a bit of lipstick in case I met somebody cute’. You know. Equally well, there were women who I was talking to who were carrying a baby and couldn’t get through the turnstile with the shopping bags and the wee baby, and nobody to help her, and it was just a real challenge on an everyday basis.
RmC: The Ring of Steel is now a thing of the past. Belfast has opened up in all kinds of ways, and accessing parts of the city centre now that were out of bounds for her as a teenager still carries some excitement for Kate. Heading east now, towards Belfast City Hall, she identifies the site of another barricade, this one at the southern end of Queen Street.
KC: This might be it. Some of it is hard to tell but it was around here. And then you were in. And some of them were just exits as well. There were main entrance ways in Donegall Place, opposite City Hall, and up on Royal Avenue, and on High Street. Those were the big ones that buses went through. But you weren’t allowed to drive through the city centre, and I remember the first time I drove through it as an adult I was like woohoo, look at this! There was a real sense of freedom, and novelty to it. Because it was just so unusual. But that’s the environment that all my friends kids have grown up in, thank God. But they can’t really connect to their parents and their parents’ experience as a teenager because it’s so radically different, and to be honest it seems very surreal, even to us.
CMC: As we walk, it becomes clear that Kate is not simply looking for physical traces of the ring of steel - it is just as much about conjuring up the feeling of the time. What it was like to live in Belfast during times of such uncertainty and strangeness…
KC: There was a sense of bravado at the time. We weren’t very fearful, especially the children. I was born into it, I was born a year and a half before it started. So it was normal and it was increasingly normalised for people who were born prior to that. It just was the way it was And I was quite shocked speaking to someone at city council, they were saying ‘I’m from Portadown; I wasn’t allowed to come to Belfast until the 80’s. Never seen the place before, we were all terrified of it; the stories, it sounded awful’. I lived here everyday of my life. I was surprised by that; even people in the countryside were afraid to come up here.
CMC: Hi everyone, Conor here. First of all, from me and Rebekah and everyone at PLACE, thank you so much for listening. Please keep sending us your thoughts and comments and, if you feel so inclined, leave a wee review on iTunes. Before we get back to Kate, I just wanted to quickly mention the architecture tours that we’re running at PLACE this summer. The tours have all been developed through expert research by knowledgeable guides and I’ve learned a huge amount myself, over the years going on them. So if you’re visiting Belfast or are a local and would like the inside track on the city, join us for tours on Saturday mornings at 11 am. We’re starting on the 26th of May with a tour by the architect and researcher Andrew Molloy. He leads a fascinating tour exploring various milestones of the development of the city. We also have tours coming up with the architectural historian Eva McDermott, including Belfast’s Art Deco buildings. And we have an architectural photography walk with the architect Aidan McGrath. You can find out more and book tickets for the tours at our website, placeni.org.
CMC: Walking around the city, Kate’s eye as a designer is inevitably drawn to how the city’s spaces are organised, and the various materials and objects that make up the built environment. We reach Fountain Street, today a bustling pedestrian thoroughfare and once the location of a barricade as part of Belfast’s Ring of Steel…
KC: So this is Fountain Street and beside the Linenhall Library there was another barricade, somewhere along here. And this could be an awning, I’m not sure but on this side the facade has changed so many times, who knows. But it was round about this point quite close to the road. But if you look here there are layers of bollards today and as you get to the edge of the road there’s another layer of fencing that runs, just to stop people wandering out probably, but it is layers of sort of impenetrable metal. Where did they all come from and what are they trying to achieve? There are layers of them and the pattern doesn’t necessarily indicate anything logical.
RMC: City Hall, a grand victorian edifice set among green lawns, now open to the public, was designed by Alfred Brumwell Thomas, and opened in 1906 at the height of Belfast’s linen boom. It’s the city’s most important civic building, where the elected city council sits, and from where key strategic decisions about the city are made. For most people who know Belfast, it’s what comes to mind when they think of the centre of the city. It was and continues to be the site of demonstrations of all sorts through the years. It lay just outside the ring of steel, but had its own security measures.
KC: We’re coming to the front of City Hall. In the initial plans for the ring of steel, the City Hall was included. But in effect it was never included and the barricade was always opposite. The initial plans with the loop around it included this but I think they found it very hard to contain. They thought they would do that as an independent, discreet thing and I’ve never walked through City Hall until maybe 5 years ago, it was completely locked down. However, the exterior had a low privet hedge around it, not the metal stuff. And I also remember they took away all the trash cans and rubbish bins, so there was nowhere to put rubbish. So either you were very good and brought it home with you or you threw it down in the street, so the street was sort of messy.
CMC: Donegall Place, the street facing city hall is still a busy shopping area, as it was in the 1970s, though it has been improved in recent years - the pavements have been widened; benches and street trees encourage people not just to enter, but to linger. Large pieces of public art feature too, again harkening back to a time before the conflict...
KC: Donegall Place, Robinson & Cleaver’s opposite City Hall. With these odd, sail-like, nostalgic, Titanic, ship-building remembrances along here which are, I think, relatively generic and meaningless but don’t tell anyone. And then this is the point, I think, where the barricade was. Last year I came in with chalk and tape and from old drawings and photographs I put together a measured plan on the ground of where it would have been. Where you go through to get your bags searched, swinging doors here that said No Entry on the front. And then the turnstile here. And so first chalk it in and then white duct tape if you can imagine. And then the police arrive: ‘We’ve been watching you for a while; it’s 5 o’clock in the morning. we’re wondering what you’re up to and if you have a permit for that.’ I said, ‘I don’t have a permit, but…’ and before I got any further the older policeman who was in his fifties said, ‘I know what that is. Oh, my God.’ That’s a very interesting feeling and the younger guy who was 27 said, ‘What is it? It’s just some lines on the ground, what are you talking about?’ And the older one said, ‘Do you know in the police station there are these photographs of the barricades?’ And he said, ‘Yeah’. He said, ‘This is where it was, the main one opposite City Hall.’ And the young guy just said, ‘I had no idea it was right here and how big it was. Oh my God.’ And I thought that if other people crossed this with their grandkids, if it was installed in metal lines in the ground, you might never notice it. But if you pass it with your grandchild you might tell the story, not a miserable story necessarily but perhaps a funny story like mine about the boyfriend and the tampons. And it brings back the everyday life of the Troubles in interesting ways. Rather than mournful and catastrophic and traumatic ways. But it allows us a means of talking about it. And I think that tourists might be interested in it as well but it comes from us rather than being projected for tourists. And I think that might be an important mechanism moving forward for design and public art interventions.
RMC: We continue along Donegall Square North onto Chichester Street, passing another gated alleyway with an aesthetic that suggests it’s been there since the 1970s, but we can’t be sure…
KC: It’s interesting though with the barricades they became increasingly formalised and less adhoc and there are images actually of the corps of engineers building platforms because your feet got too cold if you were in doing security duty in the winter; the rising cold and hardness of the ground was impossible for you so they started building wooden platforms to make it a little more comfortable for the people doing the security. You could enter and exit through a number of them, but there were certain ones, especially on the smaller streets and back streets...a lot of them were exit only so you had to plan your route through the city, and you had to know. And sometimes it changed...one woman told me she got stuck in a turnstile...but she couldn’t get out for a long time, she was wedged in there. And eventually a whole crowd people were shaking it and got it loose...
CMC: We walk back along Chichester Street away from city hall, turning left onto Arthur Street towards Cornmarket - a pedestrian plaza near Victoria Square shopping centre, pausing for a moment at the large public sculpture “the Spirit of Belfast’, installed post-Troubles as part of the area’s regeneration...
KC: Arthur Street was another barricade, somewhere along here, the building on the right as you face Cornmarket is gone. And the building on the left we may be seeing four boltholes, it’s possible...and then we’re also looking at public art, this sort of well intentioned, hope for the future, rise from the Troubles -- but it’s a sort of appropriated modernist aesthetic that’s sort of ambiguous and not terribly challenging to our own personal history here.
RMC: Kate sees public art like this as functioning primarily as decorative pieces, and, in a city still grappling with its past, this is a missed opportunity...
KC: You could say that some of the pieces, like the fish on the Lagan or the Nuala with the Hula, they cheer the place up. But figurative or modernist abstract pieces are predominating and I don’t think it’s an accident. I think that they’re easy to access, and they’re images and conversations that are closed and sealed: this is a symbol, take it or leave it, but you don’t have access to it in order to change it. You can take a selfie with it, and it represents the future, and we’re only talking about the future now. We don’t do the past, well maybe we do the Titanic.
RMC: We take a shortcut through Victoria Square, a part of the city where the streetscape of the 1970s has been almost completely transformed by glossy redevelopment. It’s youthful and vibrant, full of high street fashion and places serving Mexican, Japanese, and American food. We could be anywhere, in any contemporary city. Kate reflects on how this newness reconciles with her own attempt to remember a more abject past, and which, by her own admission, feels increasingly irrelevant to young people growing up in Belfast now…
KC: Marking where the barriers were does two things. It allows you to talk about the past but it also allows to you think, my god it’s so much better today. That’s so much freer, so much more open; how lucky we are, how precious that is. Let’s fight for that. I was working with a group of students who were in their late teens, early 20s at the University of Ulster. They said this is depressing, I don’t want to talk about this, this has nothing to do with me, that’s my parents’, I don’t want to do it...but they had to do it because their professor told them to. So I got them to start telling stories. And one girl said oh my mum was a key holder for a shop and she used to go down - she was 19 and super proud of it - she’d watch the 9 o’clock news and whenever they’d announce the police needed key holders for such and such a street and she’d be there and there’d be a bit of craic and all the key holders would chit chat until it was cleared. And she felt very important as a young woman given that responsibility. They started to spill the beans and tell all these stories. One girl wanted to go to a gay pride rally, her parents were like no, you can’t possibly do that. And she thought her parents were parochial but a few months later they confessed to her, ‘Any rally or demonstration can turn into a riot and we might never see you again’. So her life had been constrained by the Troubles but she didn’t really understand why, how. And she said that was an eye opener to her.
CMC: We emerge at the eastern edge of Victoria Square, out from under its glass roof and back onto the street. We’re standing at the intersection of Victoria Street and Upper Church Lane, in front of the rounded wedge of Bittles Bar...Kate points out the odd layering of Belfast’s history...
KC: Here we’re looking at the Jaffe Fountain, the first Jewish Mayor of Belfast. This has been moved about three times and now it’s outside the Victoria Centre. It’s a big lump of cast iron - a great security piece. And there are bollards on the Victoria Square side and on the other side, the street side. And there are bollards on the opposite side which is the police station. And then we have some 80s walls, you can tell because we have some graphic on the police station, graphic diagonal stripes and they’ve chosen to keep some of those. So that is a layer of history. I kind of like that one.
RMC: As we walk down Church Lane, busy on one side with forklifts moving pallets in and out of Victoria Square’s service entrance, and on the other with construction work refitting an old warehouse, Kate gives us some insight into how she came to take on this subject, and how her personal memories and her training as a designer combined into a very particular perspective on the problem of memory and space...
KC: I was conscious that a proposal had been embedded in the Bloomfield report, on peace and reconciliation and caring for the victims. And I think the priorities were really to care for the mental welfare of the people who had been directly, physically affected. And then the people who had been killed, their direct descendents. And so I started looking at what had been specified, and what they talked about was a piece of modernist architecture remote from all the urban areas, in the geographic centre of Northern Ireland, where you could imagine school kids being shipped in to think about and talk about the Troubles as a history module 20 or 30 years from the Good Friday Agreement. And that focus on victimhood created, I think, a hierarchy which meant, if you hadn’t been directly affected - i.e. you just went through the barricades and that was your only interaction with the danger and the horrors of the Troubles - you didn’t have a voice. And your experience was, perhaps, less valid. And the treatment of art and craft was interesting as well because it was treated as therapeutic, and things that would not offend would be included. So there was this sort of curation and vetting of what could be said.
CMC: Immediately after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in April 1998, what to remember and what to forget became two of the main questions that the people of Northern Ireland had to grapple with. A line had been drawn with the past on one side and the future on the other.
RMC: Instead of playing out on the streets of our cities, and in headlines around the world, the conflict could be confined to museums, archives and libraries, to only the places we want it to go. There has never been a formal memorial. Where would we begin with such a task? With a past that is so divisive, would a memorial heal us, or divide us further?
KC: It’s impossible to make a heroic memorial for a civil unrest, war, slash whatever it was, that there’s no winner, there’s no loser. And what you saw in the years directly afterwards, memorials and monuments to particular people and particular events that would then be attacked by other people who didn’t agree with that perspective on history. And I thought, this is a quagmire, how do you represent, how do you even discuss this event. And I understand why everybody is like, keep away from it, don’t talk about it, let’s just bury it in the past, it’s over, let’s move on. But I started to think, well what would be a way to discuss it? And a mnemonic device, something that sort of triggers a memory in an urban landscape and brings back a period or an event struck me as way to talk about it because it’s not a memorial anymore, it’s a marker. And it’s not even a historic marker, it’s just a memory trigger that’s woven into the environment. And to find a mechanism for that, it took me quite a bit longer to think it through, and to think about everyday elements in the environment to resurrect or trigger different memories for each person in the community. There’s no state-authorised version and it struck me like, that might do it. So that’s when I became very excited and started to dig in and to create a proposal. There was a concern that you’d helicopter in and propose this, and you do this. How could I do this so that it just initiated conversations and allowed other people to think of the mnemonic device as a way of working, as a sort of focus, and let it run. And so the workshops grew out of that, having conversations, and collecting 100 such proposals, or a thousand.
CMC: Kate’s in the unusual position of being both a local and, to some extent, an outsider. To her, changes that happen incrementally, and therefore invisibly to people living here all the time, are much more noticable...
KC: It is an outside eye, but it’s like any good designer I’d argue, one foot in the local community and one foot, almost like a traveller or a tourist seeing it fresh, a fresh eye. But being able to compare, being able to ask questions that perhaps a complete outsider wouldn’t know to ask, or wouldn’t feel comfortable asking. That said though, I feel very uncomfortable doing some of this work. I feel like I’m really, like who am I to come back here and ask these questions and upset people? But my aim is not to upset people.
RMC: Kate and her friends’ children are the first generation to be born and grow up since the conflict ended. And while those young people have never known a city enclosed by barricades, they live in a society transitioning out of conflict, and which is still divided in lots of ways.
KC: I think the test bed was really coming back for other reasons, or maybe to go to the archive at Belfast Telegraph, or PRONI, or whatever, and then having drinks and a meal with friends, and their kids, and the friends would be asking what were you doing today, and I’d be like, I was looking for this, this, and this down in the archive. And the children, who are in their twenties, would be asking, ‘So you really really lived that? Mum did you see it too?’ And she’s like, ‘Of course I saw it’. ‘But you’ve never told us this!’ And she said, ‘But I tried to, you were bored, you didn’t want to hear it’. So that conversation told me ok, if it’s a special sort of a thing in a museum, they’ll go visit the photographs and it’s over there and it’s separate from the lived experience of their parents and grandparents. And while we still have the parents and grandparents generation around, maybe it would be good to find ways for those generations to connect and discuss this.
CMC: The living memory of the Troubles won’t last forever. And while the big events, the bombings, and the death toll, will make it into the museums and history books, what might be lost in the process of moving on, are the experiences and everyday realities for thousands of people during those thirty years…
KC: During the Troubles I think we became as a whole society a little lawless. It felt like that other stuff was going on, the big bad stuff, but equally well we’d duck under barricades and be very nonchalant about being told not to go somewhere, often thinking the bomb wouldn’t go off. ‘I’ll just go and get my bottle of milk, you can do your bomb thing, whatever’ and you’d go get the milk, and most of the time it didn’t go off but once it did. And we’d also listen into police radio a lot, and became very au fait with military language and codes, to know what was going on in different parts of the city because it wasn’t always shared on the news media, exactly what had happened or where it had happened, so people were piecing it together by doing surveillance. But we didn’t think of it as surveillance. We probably didn’t really recognise that it was illegal either. But we did all that stuff. There was a level of subversiveness and edginess in behaviours and a recklessness as well, saying, ‘Well we might get blown up tomorrow anyway so let’s just go bananas and have a great night out’. So there was a kind of nihilistic quality to it. Might as well live, might as well have some fun. And then the black humour of course that everyone talks about. You joke about the most horrendous things and it seems just awful, but it was a release of the pressure and it was like a pressure cooker, this place. It really was. There had to be some outlet.
RMC: Memory has a funny way of embedding itself in places so that it becomes indelible – impossible to separate one from the other. When a place changes it threatens to take our memories with it. Sometimes at the root of our attachment to place is an anxiety about our own identity and in some ways, for people who lived through that time in Belfast, by not being given permission to remember, they are being asked to relinquish something of themselves.
CMC: Cities inevitably change and as we walk down Castle Lane, across High Street, onto Bridge Street, and back up toward where our walk began on Royal Avenue, Kate sees a city that’s changing for the better in many ways. But she also wonders at the unevenness of developments, and worries that the tendency to avoid the past may have unintended consequences...
KC: Why is this area being let to go to wrack and ruin, the buildings are quite wonderful. Who’s living here, who’s working here, who’s occupying the place that’s being torn down, versus the place that isn’t getting torn down, and starting to make arguments for keeping certain things or inserting certain things into the space that evoke histories and memories that are just not themed … And there’s sort of an immediacy, an emergency response, sort of, ‘We need to start building, let’s build. We’ll think about it later, but we’ll build it’. Or there’s a very narrow understanding of a design process, which means we’re dealing with the utility of the place but we’re not dealing with the texture of the landscape that the building’s fitting into and an appropriateness … Or whether it’s just, let’s try and negate it, let’s try to get rid of the awfulness. And you know it was a very run down place and I can understand it’s brighter, it’s breezier now. It’s newer looking, new is good … I think the worry is that Belfast will become a themed environment, themed for international tourists, themed as a safe space that is a generic safe space: It looks like every other city therefore you don’t feel unsafe here, right? Well, perhaps it shouldn’t look like every other city, perhaps it is different and interesting for that reason.
RMC: The Infinite City is a production of PLACE, Northern Ireland’s Built Environment Centre. Make sure you subscribe in your podcast app or on iTunes so you can get future episodes as soon as they are released.
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CMC: The Infinite City is produced by Rebekah McCabe and Conor McCafferty for PLACE, with assistance from Maria Postanogova and Stuart Gray. It is supported by Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios and Arts and Business Northern Ireland
The Infinite City is our podcast. Through it, we tell stories of people and place, design and belonging, survival and celebration in Belfast & beyond.
Supported by Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios & Arts & Business NI.
Music for Season One composed by Conor McCafferty.
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