Belfast is among “100 Resilient Cities,” the Rockefeller Foundation initiative to help urban hubs “plan for more integrated solutions to the challenges posed from globalization, urbanization, and climate change – including important social and economic impacts.”
The Northern Ireland city of 333,000 joined 36 others in a selection announced 25 May, rounding out two earlier groupings named since the program’s inception in 2013. No cities from the Republic of Ireland are among the first 100, though the Foundation says it plans to expand the network. (Washington, D.C. and Pittsburgh are among 23 U.S. cities.)
Belfast “is working to address lingering political instability after 30 years of conflict while also confronting an increased risk of coastal flooding,” according to the city’s profile on the 100 Resilient Cities website.
Belfast City Executive Suzanne Wylie spoke about the selection and promoted her city during an Irish Network-D.C. event earlier in the week at the Washington offices of the Northern Ireland Bureau. She said access to Rockefeller grant money will help the city “make priority investments to resolve difficult legacy problems.”
Most people know about the historic and lingering sectarian divide in Belfast. Wylie noted that The Troubles began in the late 1960s as the city’s legacy shipbuilding and linen industries were collapsing. The economy, and the society, have improved in fits and starts since the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.
Today, financial services, health and life sciences, and the film industry (more than just “Game of Thrones“) are leading an economic resurgence. Foreign direct investment is on the rise, with 40 percent coming from the U.S.
“The city is unrecognizable from just 15 years ago,” said Wylie, a lifelong resident (she’s about 50) who was appointed to her post in 2014. The city’s own “Belfast Agenda” plan calls for more than $400 billion in infrastructure investments by 2030, including a new downtown transit hub, plus more hotel rooms and office space. Wylie also emphasized the city is very safe.
“We still have significant problems,” Wylie said, “but now is really Belfast’s time.”