The neoliberalisation of the Cathedral Quarter and its contestations

Andrew Grounds, Brendan Murtagh

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Over time Belfast has been well researched as a site of ethnosectarian conflict, segregation and fear see (Boal et al 1976) and (Gaffiken and Morrisey 2011). The study of socio-spatial patterns of ‘ethnocracy’ is useful, but this article will argue how it is equally important to understand local forms of urban restructuring in terms of global processes that are linked to neoliberalism. To better understand the neoliberal urbanisation of Belfast this article is organised into two parts. The first part will demonstrate how the Northern Ireland State has sought legitimacy in the free market as ‘therapy’ for the production of neutral socio-spatial formations such as the Cathedral Quarter. Secondly it will examine this performance of neoliberal urbanism, as it ‘actually exists’ and demonstrate how market-led renewal has been extended through the clustering and non-sectarian interests, ‘soft’ arrangements of urban governance, cultural re-branding strategies, economic development incentives, and the development of various flagship projects. Critically this place-based grounding of neoliberalism is useful, as it also allows for the contestations of neoliberal urbanism to become real rather than just theoretical. The second part of the article will draw attention to the responses of local, and sometimes marginal, interests that have looked to challenge, adapt and, at times, divert the extension of market-led renewal. To be clear, this article does not want to overstate the performance of such interests. Nor does it want to claim that they significantly impact or obstruct the wider neoliberal urbanisation of Belfast. Instead it is interested in their behaviours and their different methods of working to explore what may be constituted as ‘alternative’, at least in the locality of the Cathedral Quarter. By studying how and why these interests have responded to the extension of neoliberal urbanism over time, it may just be possible to provide a better platform to articulate what more progressive forms of urban resistance might look like.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 2015
EventAESOP Prague Annual Congress 2015: Definite space - fuzzy responsibility - Czech Technical University, Prague, Czech Republic
Duration: 13 Jul 201516 Jul 2015


ConferenceAESOP Prague Annual Congress 2015: Definite space - fuzzy responsibility
Country/TerritoryCzech Republic


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