We all see the city differently.
Think about it like postcards. Postcards that you have written from different times and places, images on the front capturing something memorable — a special, important place. On the back, a description; “having such a lovely time, beach amazing, visited old church, saw ruins.” But these postcards are different. They are projected onto a screen; one on top of the other. Over time an image builds up of all the places you’ve sent postcards from.
Think about it like a geographical cross section through layers of earth. Layers of time and history; one on top of the other. But over time some of the layers have moved — slipped, sediment shifting, animals burrowing… — and in parts it is not clear which layer you are looking at. It is not quite clear where one layer ends and another one begins. The layers; one on top of the other, form something of a history. Not a linear history — one thing after the other; a history where things get missed, people get forgotten and memories fade. Rather, a history; one on top of the other. A bit like a genealogy, not the family tree type, more of a archeological type — one layer discovered doesn't close a door but opens several more; one on top of the other.
This is a bit like how we see the city. We all come to the city with an image(s) — one on top of the other — of how we think the city should be, how it should look, what should go in it, the kind of people we want to see there. But not everyone's images are the same right? We’ve all written different postcards and we are all part of different layers.
And we can feel quite passionately about our images of the city cant we? We can spend a lot of time asking the question: which image is the right image?
But here’s the thing.
When an image is turned into bricks and mortar the image reveals what it is capable of, what it can do. It is this question that I think is the most important — what does it do?
Today, in Belfast, an important process ends; the public consultation for the Cathedral Quarter Development. There is an excellent piece that you can read here if you want to find out more.
As it comes to an end, and, at some point in the next month, the planning application is submitted I have been thinking about what affects this image of our city will have. It’s an image born out of a certain way of seeing the world. A way of seeing the world as a space for the accumulation of capital wealth, of money. While this is not always bad thing it is an image that we must be very wary of. Who does this image serve? At what altar does it sacrifice? At what cost?
Here’s the thing. This image of the city does not just use space — like the Cathedral Quarter — to build bricks and mortar in its own image; it actually creates space. It dictates how we will use, experience and inhabit space; and I don't like the idea of someone with a very limited perspective doing this in the city that I love.
Yes, I must interrogate the images I have of the city, they too can be limited and restricting. But, and perhaps most importantly we must ask not simply what is it but what will it do? Who will it remember/ Who will it forget? Who will fall through its cracks? Who will benefit?
The deadline to object to the proposals is 5pm today. You can object here.