The social consequences of broken urban structures: a case study of Belfast

Ken Sterrett, Mark Hackett, Declan Hill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


This article explores how the design and layout of the urban environment can have significant social impacts on working class communities whose access to employment and other necessary services depends largely on public transport and safe walk-able streets. It does so by considering a case study of Belfast. Although Belfast has a distinctive recent history as the site of political violence and territorial division, it also has a spatial configuration that emerged out of a modernising roads and redevelopment programme in the 1960s and 1970s. However, an understanding of contemporary Belfast, particularly its urban structure and form, requires n analysis of how the social impacts of such ubiquitous regional and urban planning practices were not addressed. The article argues that a culture of ‘politically safe’ bureaucratic inaction developed during the ‘war years’ has been sustained in the ‘new democracy’. In turn, this has had significant consequences for the functioning of the city. Major areas of derelict land around the city core together with the impediments created by regional road infrastructure have combined to create a doughnut city that, on the one hand, facilitates a commuting middle class, while on the other, discriminates against the poorest inner city communities. The article goes on to examine how an activist urban design group, known as the Forum for Alternative Belfast, has responded to these challenges. It focuses particularly on action-research undertaken during its 2010 Summer School which aimed to address issues of disconnection in inner North Belfast that affect some of the most territorialised and deprived communities in the city.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)49-61
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Transport Geography
Issue numbernull
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2012


  • Urban structure, Community, roads Infrastructure, dysfunctional city, spatial conecvtivity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Transportation


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