Our Future Foyle
How can design reimagine an area that has come to be associated with poor emotional wellbeing?
The River Foyle runs through the city of Derry-Londonderry in Northern Ireland. The fast flowing river acts as a natural divide between two sides of the city. For various reasons this six miles of waterfront has become synonymous with negative connotations. As the peace process in Northern Ireland continues, the river is now seen as a neutral platform for a series of social and cultural interventions to intervene and increase the city’s positive outlook towards the riverfront.
In February 2016, the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design embarked on a partnership with Public Health Agency Northern Ireland aimed at revitalising the area with the local residents to create an uplifting and positive place in which people will want to socialise and spend time. With three bridges (Craigavon, Foyle and Peace) joining the western and eastern halves of the city, the Foyle has the potential to represent a shared, neutral, depoliticised space.
Lizzie Raby and Ralf Alwani have been working on how to change the local perception of the area by developing a series of community engagement projects, the first of which they recently completed at the Foyle Maritime Festival 2016. 160,000 visitors attended this year’s festival that traditionally celebrates a leg of the Clipper Race. For the week of the festival, Derry-Londonderry is transformed into a vibrant city with a great sense of community and, perhaps most importantly, of fun. Our Future Foyle hopes to find a way to continue this spirited atmosphere throughout the year, to encourage the residents to use the banks, river and bridges, to turn it into a consistently lively and lived-in place.
In 1977, a whale arrived in Derry-Londonderry. Fascination over the orca’s presence brought the people together, leaving behind a shared collective memory, both neutral and idiosyncratic to the city. The people named him Dopey Dick. Lizzie and Ralf recreated the whale for the festival using a wooden structure in which visitors were invited to write down their hopes and aspirations for the future of the river on pieces of shirt fabric (shirt making was the area’s main industry in the 1900s); over the course of the week, the fabric formed the skin of the whale. Community engagement projects such as this are an important method in finding out what issues the local people really want to be addressed in their city on a long-term basis.
The city is still undergoing various large-scale regeneration projects, but Lizzie and Ralf have found that the local residents often feel disconnected from and disassociated with them. The project is still in its early stages of research, initiating smaller community projects that invite the residents to take partfrom the beginning, to voice their opinions and be heard.