Just as Palestine and Israel spiral into ever decreasing circles of chaos there are signs that we are emerging from our past. Two things in recent days have pointed to the transformation. There’s the early signs of a changing of the guard in our generation of politicians, and King Billy is to replace the grim reaper on a gable end in the Village.
But by far the most trumpeted indicator of so-called progress is in retail. A few months ago a big blue Swedish box of tricks opened. And last week, well, I could hardly believe that the opening of a shopping centre made the lead in all the news outlets. You need to understand that I despise the idea of a ‘shopping experience’, so I’m not all that interested.
But what I do enjoy is the bold new approach to architecture. The dome looks good I must say, especially when it is lit up. And it’s the latest of adventurous contributions after decades of mortifyingly bad examples.
I work in the east of the city and it’s changing dramatically. Projects on the former Scirocco site and the much heralded Titanic Quarter feature buildings that wouldn’t be out of place in the finest cities of the world and I love the bold adventure of developers and architects that dares to imagine a whole new story for Belfast.
Other developments in East Belfast are being made with an eye to anchoring the local community and providing design which will re-imagine the area in ways which are sensitive to the past. Plans are afoot to redevelop familiar landmarks in the area like the school on templemore avenue, vacant land at bridge end, all with an eye to revitalising the N’ards road by 2012.
My own work is focussed on the Skainos Project, a 2 acre redevelopment initiative on the site of East Belfast Mission. It’s exciting times indeed.
What we all need to be aware of though is that community and civic pride is not secured simply by architecture, still less by new shopping centres. Relationships need to be developed intentionally. Physical regeneration must be supported by social investment.
As a Christian, I long to see the church engaged not just in the renewal of the private life of individuals, but in the wholesale change required to make our communities better for everyone which includes the transformation of our civic spaces.
Such was the vision of the prophet Isaiah, who described God’s people as the renewers of streets with dwellings and the rebuilders of broken walls.
So, let’s see more bold architecture that we can argue over. But let’s also see more investment in the lives of people. And please God, let’s see people of faith play their full part.
First broadcast on BBC Radio Ulster, Thought for the Day, 10 March 2008