Urban Childhoods Belfast City Centre

Cities are growing‚ and growing less hospitable for children. The youngest in society ‚ our future citizens ‚ have been increasingly sidelined by urban planners, leaving us with city centres and suburbs that restrict the freedoms of children and expose them to lifelong health and development risks.

35% of Belfast's population is aged 25 or under. Urban Childhoods Belfast sets out a framework and a design strategy for making the city centre of Belfast child-friendly. The project supports Belfast's aspirations for attracting families, skilled and talented workforce, particularly those with children, back to the heart of Belfast.

The vision and design strategy address the resilience challenges facing Belfast including prevalence of car use, lack of housing in the city core, risk of population decline, outward migration, segregation and division, climate change, air pollution, economic resilience amongst others.

Children and Young People is one of the three goals highlighted in Belfast's Resilience Strategy where the city is looking to put children and young people at the heart of the city, and where they are involved in decision-making to help shape their built environment and a sustainable economy for the city.

The project promotes urban resilience through emphasis on connectivity and active mobility, greening and activation of open spaces, meanwhile use, mixed-use developments and more importantly, bring the people back to Belfast's city centre.

The city's focus on urban childhoods started during the acute shock that Belfast experienced following the fire in Castle Place, in a culturally significant building, the Bank Building, at the heart of the city centre in August 2018. The fire led to a number of businesses being affected, a significant drop in footfall and a deserted part of the city centre. This was a time when Belfast City Council (BCC) has started the development of their City Resilience Strategy.

The challenge was to respond quickly to the shock while prioritising public safety. New wayfinding and marketing campaigns were initial responses to navigate people through the city centre. In a short period of time, the public realm had to be reimagined. A number of physical interventions took place in the city centre to address the drop in footfall, support the economic recovery, and animate spaces. Street closure to traffic created opportunities for meanwhile uses such as a pop-up playpark.

The city in general lacks child-friendly and green spaces and people quickly embraced the new space and it became a destination. The pop-up play park highlighted the need for such places in the city and how the possibility of creating similar spaces should be explored systematically as this was a temporary intervention. The success of the pop-up park after the fire, and in attracting children and families to the city centre highlighted the need to transform Belfast's city centre to a child-friendly place.

Designing for urban childhoods has since become a key focus for building and enhancing Belfast's resilience.


  • Project Name

    Urban Childhoods Belfast City Centre

  • Location

    Belfast, Northern Ireland

  • Category

    Masterplanning and urban design

  • Landscape Architect


  • Client

    Belfast City Council

  • Awards

    LI Awards 2020 Finalist - Excellence in Place Regeneration


  • Project Team

    Clients: Global Resilient Cities Network (previously 100 Resilient Cities) and Belfast City Council Project team: Dima Zogheib, Sogol Ayazi, Jose Ahumada (Arup) Grainia Long, Richard McLernon, Callie Persic,Israel Hontavilla, Simon Rees (Belfast City Council)

  • Year Completed


  • Arup

  • Approximate Map Location


    Belfast, Northern Ireland

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