Northern Ireland news

Images of how Belfast would look without peace walls developed for new project

An image of what the Divis and Townsend Street area could look like without the peace wall
Suzanne McGonagle

IMAGES of how Belfast would look like without peace walls have been developed for a new project aimed at giving people the "chance to see their area virtually without the barriers".

A new app allows users to imagine how Belfast’s neighbourhoods would look like if peace walls were removed and replaced with other buildings and public spaces.

The Share Futures, Planning for Change project, created by Belfast Interface Project and tech company Animorph, uses augmented reality technology to enable people to create their own artists impression of how their local streetscape could look.

Joe O'Donnell from the Belfast Interface Project said the aim is to help people see Belfast without the barriers, which have been a feature of life in the city since 1921 and during the Troubles where interface areas became one of the "running sores" of the conflict.

Read more: What is a peace wall?

An image showing the Inner East and Short Strand area of east Belfast

"We have a city with more than 100 walls physically separating communities," he said but added people appeared fearful about removing them now.

"Even in some of the most recent surveys by us and the Department of Justice and the International Fund for Ireland, people were saying they’d like to see the walls removed, but maybe in their children’s or their grandchildren’s lifetime," he said.

"Some of these walls have been in existence for about 50 years and they’re talking about another half century - you’re talking about a physical segregation of a city that would last for a century.

"It’s not rocket science - lots of these walls remain in place because they give people a sense of safety and security, but the alternative has to be something that is bought into and agreed with communities, not just a quick fix."

An image showing the Inner East and Short Strand area of east Belfast

Mr O'Donnell said people also feared the spaces would be left undeveloped.

"That’s how we came up with the idea of looking at new and emerging technology and the idea of using augmented reality to enable some of those conversations to take place."

The project has been supported by the Community Relations Council, the Executive and Belfast City Council, which is interested in making use of the app to develop greenways in the city.

Project manager Paul Smyth said: "It started in east and west Belfast, so we have two prototype apps, and now we’re working on north Belfast.

The Short Strand interface in east Belfast

"It’s been well received everywhere we’ve taken it.

"Hopefully this will give people a chance to see their area virtually without the barriers. This augmented reality app will give people a chance to start a conversation."

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