FORUM FOR ALTERNATIVE BELFAST is a not–for–profit organization (Community Interest Company) that campaigns for a better and a more equitable built environment in Belfast. The Forum was formally launched on the 4th of June 2009 by a group of architects, planners and others who came together to explore alternative ways to develop the city.
The Belfast we now live in has been shaped by a relatively unconstrained development market that has largely failed to create a thriving and vibrant city environment. Over the last 35 years the population of Belfast has decreased by 35%, while the population of surrounding commuter districts has increased significantly. This decline in population is particularly evident in inner and central city areas which have been decimated by the impacts of road infrastructure, low density housing redevelopment and the proliferation of car parks. The more intact historic centre is now seen as a ‘utility’ space; a place to work or shop in, but not a place to live in, to own, or to celebrate our civic identity.
Significantly, Belfast is ‘nobody’s project’; the city council does not have planning or regeneration powers and those government departments that do, have no particular coordinated interest in the declining city. The Forum is shaping a regeneration agenda for the city and it is about creating a connected and shared city; a city that deals proactively with its dereliction and abandoned spaces and a city whose civic vision is manifest in its architecture and streetscape.
As a campaigning group, the Forum’s work is underpinned by three key principles.
In its view:
- the creative potential of planning, urban design and architecture had not been explored for post–conflict Belfast;
- the approach to design and regeneration has to be more socially expansive than traditional architecture, urban design and spatial planning practices;
- the Forum itself should be an action–orientated research group; in other words, a ‘do–tank’ that should go beyond lobbying and ‘think–tanking’ to demonstrate alternative ways of developing the city.