Voices from the margins : a study of social exclusion and urban regeneration in Belfast, Northern Ireland and Halifax, Nova Scotia

  • Edel Maria McClean

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The second half of the 20th century has been marked by economic and social change in western cities. The decline of traditional industry has impacted upon the physical, economic, social and cultural environment within the city. For many cities large areas of land in, or close to, the urban core have fallen into decline, the traditional industrial base of the city has been lost, challenging the city’s identity and pride. For city residents, particularly those living in the inner cities, this has resulted in a loss of traditional employment and industrial heritage. Across Europe and North America, cities have responded to these changes by initiating large scale urban regeneration programmes. These initiatives seek to transform declining urban areas and to reimagine and reimage the city. The extent to which such developments benefit those living in the inner city, however, is questionable.

Focusing on regeneration processes in Belfast, Northern Ireland and Halifax, Nova Scotia this thesis examines the relationships between economically disadvantaged communities and recent urban regeneration initiatives, asking to what extent such developments reflect the needs, aspirations and identities of local communities. There has been considerable academic debate concerning the meaning and nature of social exclusion, and the extent to which citizens become involved in public decision making. There has also, however, been a recognition of a growing gap between postmodern academic theory and the practical experiences of those living in, and planning for, cities. The primary aim of the thesis is to explore the operation of social exclusion and inclusion at a grounded and practical level through an examination of the role of economically disadvantaged communities in urban regeneration, arguing that the extent to which disadvantaged communities are included in decision making processes can reveal wider societal attitudes to those on the margins.

The research is based within grounded theory methodology. 106 qualitative interviews have been conducted with government representatives, development corporation employees, voluntary sector workers and community leaders and members in Belfast and Halifax. The information accessed highlights the range of factors which influence the level of inclusiveness of a decision making process, and the complexity of involving disadvantaged communities in development. A model has been developed which suggest that responsibility for creating inclusive decision making processes lies with development corporations, communities and wider government. Where there is a genuine commitment to inclusion and participation, and where there is a recognition of both the rights and responsibilities of citizens, communities and decision makers will be better able to bridge the barriers, and work towards creating more inclusive cities.
Date of Award2003
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorStephen Royle (Supervisor) & Ian Shuttleworth (Supervisor)

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