In 2021, LQ BID (an independent not for profit company) launched Northern Ireland's first sustainable district, in Belfast, with a series of ten initiatives to make the Linen Quarter the most sustainable business area in the region.
Building on the launch, we organised RE[act] Festival, a completely new NI festival that sought to inspire and lead a more sustainable Belfast (and Northern Ireland). The public were invited to join an informal assembly – in a Belfast city centre pub – to hear from and debate with guest speakers who shared the best of international and local experience of city transformation and what it means for the sustainable regeneration of Belfast city centre.
New Belfast City initiatives such as the “Bolder Vision" were debated alongside the rollout of new parklets and improvements to public realm across the Linen Quarter.
Other topics included: How can we realistically achieve modal shift towards sustainable and active transport? How do we overcome higher development costs to deliver more sustainable buildings? With so many disparate stakeholders, how do we achieve buy-in for sustainable regeneration in a fair and inclusive way?
The discussions were informal with high levels of attendance and participation. Complimentary pizza was served half way through and drinks were also available to purchase at the bar!
One of the most important lessons we learned is that we need to connect, listen and work in partnership not only with our city administrators but also with those who live and work in the city. At the core of any meaningful city transition towards sustainable change and behaviour are local citizens – and their voice and input matters. This is particularly true for our cities' young people.
Our RE[act] planning team were aware that space should be created to hear citizens' voices and ideas about how we should create a greener and safer city. The idea of an early evening interactive conversation in a city centre pub was proposed and agreed by the group. We discovered the best format – which both engaged and stimulated conversation – was a short panel discussion followed by a table workshop (with white board) to capture ideas and discussion.
Do we think the format a cafe conversations worked? Yes! Would we encourage other cities and regions to hold their own? Yes! Not only was it a fun evening for the audience and panel alike – it was also a powerful citizen listening platform and a great way for positive messages about sustainability to be heard and shared.