Personal profile

Research Focus

Cities and the urbanisation process cannot be understood without reference to the undeveloped areas and open tracts that lie between developments: the interstitial spaces. The concept of interstitial space can be applied to the city of Belfast best by examining boundary areas and framing them using the concept of liminality – the state of ambiguity or ‘in-betweenness’ (Murphy and McDowell, 2019). In Belfast, this manifests as interfaces between two factions– the Catholic/Nationalist/Republican (CNR) community, and the Protestant/Unionist/Loyalist (PUL) community. Interfaces were introduced during and following the infamous conflict in Northern Ireland, euphemistically dubbed ‘The Troubles,’ which continued for three decades from 1969 to 1998 (Byrne and Gormley-Heenan, 2014). The Troubles introduced levels of segregation in housing, education and defensive urban planning that persevere today, hence the presumed necessity of interfaces to urge peace in communities. The implementation of these interfaces undoubtedly challenges traditional notions of interstitial spaces as being afterthoughts in urban planning, illustrating that, in the case of Belfast, interstitial spaces have been purposely designed and constructed to manage contested areas. In this way, interfaces function as cushioning zones to negotiate community interaction, both physically and politically, forming social contracts between opposing sides of the community. Consequently, Peace Walls in Belfast have garnered international attention, and become fully embedded in both the psyche of Belfast communities and urban planning regimes.

Accordingly, my research seeks to understand the spatial, functional, and political aspects of the emergence and nature of ‘interstitial spaces’ – in this case, interfaces. Often, these are areas upon which ingenuity continues to be effective in terms of their spatial features, practical and fiscal capacities, and possibilities for design and planning interventions for socio-spatial amalgamation or segregation (Breitung, 2011). This demonstrates that interstitial spaces – although disregarded, barren, or inert – are never entirely abandoned, inactive, or forgotten, but foci for innovative future possibilities that are subject to politically mediated rationales. Through this research, I am seeking to ascertain the ways in which interfaces contribute to the urbanisation process and the urban character of cities, as well as their role in peacebuilding and the management of contested territories. My research will examine the political dimensions of interfaces, specifically regarding the political motives behind their production, their role in policy making to produce urbanised space, and the underlying politics that they can unveil beyond institutionalised policy narratives and frameworks. Using a qualitative approach, the research will investigate interfaces and intra-urban boundaries within Belfast, Northern Ireland, as a post-violence city, with three case study areas in North, East and West Belfast. The case studies will provide a glimpse of the politicised and contested origins of Belfast’s interstices as politically-driven spaces, and their intended and unintended – and at times downright perverse - effects in defining an integrated and socially just post-conflict city.

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • SDG 15 - Life on Land
  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions


  • G Geography (General)
  • Planning
  • Urban Planning