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My dream for Belfast: three visions for 2020

Liam Kennedy - Queen's University professor of Economics and Social History

Edwardian Belfast was one of Europe's great commercial success stories. In 1911, its high-tech industry was busy conquering world markets in linen, shipbuilding and engineering.

A hundred years later, the remnants of these once-great industries are being recycled, now as part of the heritage industry.

Can we eat the past? Up to a point, yes. The Titanic Quarter may yet fill out with ancillary attractions, rooted in Belfast's musical and artistic past. The city is blessed with scenic attractions on its doorstep.

So Belfast in 2020 will have a vibrant tourist industry, unless, of course, it manages to self-destruct on its journey to a post-industrial future. Historically, the city has incubated more than its share of destructive forces, but these seem to be in decline.

Orangeism and extremist nationalism have backed themselves into the dustbin of history, re-emerging ironically as heritage and kitsch.

But this is not enough. Belfast has to re-invent itself as a producing city. This means attracting advanced technologies of the type associated with multi-national companies and world-class universities.

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If Owen Paterson has his way, Northern Ireland will have a corporation tax rate as low as that in the Republic. This could well lay the foundations for a private-sector revival.

Sensitive redevelopment, the filling in of blank spaces in the cityscape, investment in education at all levels, as well as modest population growth should help create conditions for a better quality of life. No doubt family forms will continue to evolve, with the nuclear family in continuing decline. But Belfast is small enough to sustain extended kin and surrogate-kin networks, as well as effective community initiatives.

The city on the Lagan has an inspiring past, the secret of which was opening onto a wider world. Its future could be as creative.

Roisin McDoangh, chief executive of the Arts Council

Belfast was, for 30 years, synonymous in the eyes of the world with the worst of the Troubles. Then, as now, the arts played an instrumental part in the transition of life in this city to the relative normality we now enjoy.

Today's Belfast is a city practically unrecognisable from its conflicted past, but it is no easy matter to shift people's engrained perceptions of a place.

This is where the arts really come to the fore, providing us with the raw materials on which to build a positive new international image for ourselves.

The Tourist Board's rebranding of the city reflects its creative confidence, as a City of Music and a City of Festivals. Our creative and cultural offerings can give Belfast the edge as a place where businesses would want to locate and invest, as well as providing the reason why a quarter of a million tourists visit the region every year.

A recent programme of improvements to Belfast's theatres and arts venues has given extensive facelifts to the Grand Opera House, Crescent Arts Centre, Ulster Hall and Conway Mill.

The rebuilt Lyric Theatre opens its doors in May and the new An Chulturlann and Metropolitan Arts Centre will be completed next year.

We are at a critical moment. We can either continue to invest in our defining assets as a city - the extraordinary creative talent of our people - or we can choose to penny-pinch and risk our deserved place on the international map as a proud city which confidently proclaims its rich artistic and cultural achievements.

All of this depends on whether the Executive's coming Budget is brave enough to match the commitment the other devolved administrations on these islands have made to their arts.

By Andrew Irvine - Belfast City Centre manager

The concept of the 'city region' is a well-established principle with policymakers and business leaders across the globe. This principal recognises that any regional economy greatly benefits from a city which acts as its economic driver - its economic heart-muscle.

Equally, the city needs a successful region which can supply it with a talented workforce and an attractive environment that draws people to the region. In Belfast, this principal is especially stark, with Belfast housing over half of the region's population and jobs.

Our story, if anything, is one of a city that never gives up; a city that adapts and overcomes. Belfast is preparing for when the economy lifts. The £30m investment in Belfast streets, through the Streets Ahead project, will provide a regional city centre that can hold its own across Europe.

Planning permission has been sought for the city centre's next comprehensive development scheme - a £400m mixed-use development of the North West Quarter, named Royal Exchange.

By 2020 I would hope that Belfast will be:

  • enjoying the benefits of the Review of Public Administration, under which we will have an empowered city council. Businesses will also benefit from a leaner public sector which they can more easily understand and access;
  • reaping the rewards from Business Improvement Districts. This concept, which is well-established across the UK, is a partnership between local businesses and the local authority to develop and fund projects and services to benefit commercial districts;
  • deriving the positive outcomes of a greater city-centre residential population. By 2010, 80% of the world's population will live in cities. This will give Belfast greatly increased economic and cultural activity.

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