Belfast City Council appointed AECOM Landscape Architects to undertake a feasibility study – Creating & Reconnecting Shared Spaces – A Network of Connected & Welcoming Open Spaces in North & West Belfast funded through the PEACE IV Programme. The Shared Space principles of places being Welcoming, Safe, Good Quality and Connected were validated through the assessment of the Primary Route to deliver 10km of connected spaces with Springfield Dam at its centre. The project was iconic in terms of its potential to transform the physically and socially fragmented environment of some of the most contested communities in Belfast. These areas have highly segregated communities and are subject to continued community tensions, vandalism and anti-social behaviour. The objectives of the project were to create new shared civic spaces that would be used by all sections of the community, changing both attitudes and behaviours to reduce segregation. The study considered the feeling of Safety as one of the priority objectives linked to the aim of the central government’s strategy around improving community relations as set out in the Together: Building a United Community (TBUC) Strategy 2013. The aim within TBUC is to create a community where everyone feels safe in moving around and where life choices are not inhibited by fears around safety.
Springfield Dam Park was the catalyst project as the first part of the connected spaces to be constructed. The Council spearheaded comprehensive public engagement within all communities, interest groups, Councillors & officials, the results of which informed the design. AECOM’s design response was to acknowledge the anti-social behaviour rife within the derelict land, open it up to the public & remove security fencing along the Springfield Road.
Opened during COVID-19 restrictions, the park has been embraced by all as a great place to be, evidenced by positive social media feeds. Now disabled & able-bodied fishermen can enjoy their sport, watching walkers & cyclists, young & old. It came at the right time, just when it was most needed to boost health & wellbeing, becoming the positive focus for people from all communities to meet outdoors. It has been open now for six months with no evidence of anti-social behaviour.
It has exceeded all expectations by delivering the shared space goal, succeeding where previous dialogue to overcome perceived insurmountable differences had failed. A feature bridge joined two sides of the new park, symbolising the social & cultural reconnection of the divided communities. It was a bold move that has paid off. It provides safe, lit paths, the ability to explore further and be accessed by a wider audience. The park design is a simple response, executed well, creating a place where people want to spend time. The water provides an ever-changing mood with a sense of peace and tranquillity. People and wildlife are again sharing space and living side by side. It has transformed the lives of local communities far beyond the confines of the park.
The Park is the highly functional centrepiece and catalyst for the Forth Meadow Community Greenway which aims to connect a series of existing open spaces in north-west Belfast for pedestrians and cyclists. A new shared community hub provides a resource for educational and social events for surrounding communities. The success of the design is its simplicity- new lit pathways are connected by a feature bridge symbolising the joining of divided communities and the derelict dam with Springfield Park.
The area has been transformed from a wasteland full of rubbish with high levels of anti-social behaviour into a stimulating place where wildlife and people coexist. Waterfowl making their home here contribute hugely to the richness of sights and sounds within the park as does the water and re-opened views to the Belfast Hills. Careful choice of materials provides different textures and alludes to the site’s industrial past melding with new scented planting. The park is now fully accessible. Both able-bodied and disabled fishermen can enjoy fishing. Pedestrian and wheeled active travel is accommodated by smooth, level pathways. It is a place that does not discriminate- it is valued by young and old, cross-community and across all abilities. The cultural, political, psychological and physical site challenges were seen to be insurmountable in recent history, yet through our considered dialogue with stakeholders and community groups these have been overcome and sceptics were proven wrong in how the park has been embraced by those living close to it.
Design Lead and Project Management Stage 1-3 (Landscape Architects): AECOM, Belfast
Project Management Stage 4/5: McAdam
Civil, Structural and Mechanical Engineering: AECOM, Belfast
Environment and Ecology: AECOM, Belfast
Planning: AECOM, Belfast
Client: Belfast City Council
Image Credits: Mal McCann and Ricky Martin