We are Amberlea Neely and Aisling Rusk of Starling Start and Studio idir. We are researchers, creative producers and designers. We are citizens of Belfast. We come with a background in the disconnection and connection of people and places. We’re interested in spaces and how people use them. We’re interested in local activism. We’re curious about ownership and access. Our approach is collaborative, democratic, and always a little playful. We like to find common ground.
Belfast’s terraces are built around a complex network of entries, alleyways, and commonages. Once used as access for important coal deliveries and sewage networks, this infrastructure has been demoted to bin runs, leading to areas of dysfunction with fly tipping and antisocial behaviour. However, as COVID-19 continues to restrict social interactions, these wild, liminal spaces present an opportunity to those craving spaces beyond their homes. They can become places to grow, places to play, places to come together in a ‘rurbanisation’ of the ‘entries’, as they are locally known.
Some of Belfast’s alleyways are adopted, meaning that they receive the same treatment that a public footpath or road might. Some are unadopted. Forgotten. They have no rules. Are they public places? Do they belong to us? Who looks after them? The information exists, but’s not public. It’s hard to find… We’d like to track down this useful information and make it publicly available and easy to understand. An alleygating initiative has been underway over the last decade to enclose adopted alleys in a call to reduce antisocial behaviour. We ask questions about the wider use of the alleyways for play, growth and connection over alleygating and nimbyism, and will take advantage of their non-adopted, liminal status to provoke and promote their wider usage. The investigation echoes emerging research around resilience, people friendly neighbourhoods, hyperlocalism and The 15 Minute City which could have both local and wider reaching significance.
We want to stimulate debate around these common spaces, to learn about the history and explore the future of them. We want to celebrate the community stories from lockdown and before, of alleyways transformed by collective effort into thriving local community hubs. We want our fellow citizens to know how to make better use of these spaces. This community investigation makes hidden information public. It challenges the top down approach. It creates discussion around who owns the city. It creates the possibility for a collection of spaces. It might encourage people to stay on in the city rather than move to the suburbs, a problem Belfast faces. It shifts power into the hands of the people of this city. Autonomy. It creates common ground and the potential for increased wellbeing.
9ft in Common will explore the open and closed alleys of Belfast, promoting not just the collective appropriation of your own local alleyway, but their use by others as part of an expanding network of off-road walking routes through the city, desire lines connecting the city’s existing partial and fragmented greenway infrastructure.