Pedestrianisation for a shared multicultural public space
Open Botanic - a collaborative initiative led by Forward South Partnership and Queen's University Belfast to advocate for multicultural, diverse, inclusive and accessible public streets in Belfast.
The Open Botanic initiative started in 2020, as a response to the changes in use of public space due to the Covid pandemic. The project is the product of years of research by Dr Laura Michael and Dr Agustina Martire. As a result of other earlier collaborations, the Public Engagement and Sustainability teams at Queen’s got in touch with Dr Martire and Dr Michael to investigate ways of improving active travel and inclusion in the neighbourhoods adjacent to QUB. As a result, the research team was able to carry out quantitative and qualitative research focused on mobility in Botanic Avenue, which led to the Open Botanic report. This piece of research shed light on changes of perception towards a more welcoming attitude to spaces for walking, sitting and cycling in Botanic Avenue. Very significantly, we collected hard data showing numbers of pedestrians were 10 times higher than cars parked in the area, while perception by business owners and organisations was the opposite. The report also analysed a survey with residents that showed a very strong will for a more active and people centred street, which led us to work on the Open Shaftesbury research. This was an in depth mapping exercise, where we engaged with over 40 local residents to understand the nuances of their uses of Botanic Avenue and Shaftesbury Square. One of the main issues that transpired from this research was that local residents tend to avoid the avenue, as they do not have a sense of belonging nor safety in the street.
As a result, in collaboration led by with Forward South Partnership in 2022, we organised a street festival, by closing the street to traffic and holding a multicultural event. Most significantly, the event is not only filled with entertainment, but is especially geared at the co-design of spaces where local resident groups and local charities have a space to communicate their roles in the community. This aspect of the co design of the kiosks for the festival was only achieved because of the financial support of Public Engagement, the RPO and the AHRC IAA grants at Queen’s. This funding enabled the organisation of 10 workshops in 2022 and 12 workshops in 2023, with the collaboration of Lawrence Street Workshops to co-design and build the kiosks for the festival.
The purpose of the project and festival is to test the possibility of pedestrianisation of Botanic Avenue, not only as a tool for developing a more sustainable future through active travel, but also to engage significantly with local residents, business owners and tenants to involve them in the whole process of the transformation of their high street. The work of the team made by academics and students, Public Engagement at QUB, Sustainability at QUB and Forward South Partnership aimed to achieve positive and sustainable change in the built environment surrounding the university. This is evidenced in the ongoing engagement with DfC, BCC, DfI, NIHE and Housing Associations, and the media attention during the last 2 years to the Open Botanic Festival.
The aim of the Open Botanic Festival 2023 was to bring communities together to re-imagine their shared space. The festival was held on Sunday 24 September 2023 and showcased Botanic Avenue, as a place that is fully accessible to pedestrians and cyclists.