Urban empowerment: Green synergies for electric neighbourhoods
This research project led by Director of Research Prof Greg Keeffe envisions synergistic, place-based solutions to issues of environmental, social and economic sustainability, by utilising an emergent closed-cycle approach and a research by design methodology. This collaboration between Architecture at Queens and Belfast City Council aims to develop new futures for disadvantaged communities by combining, closing, and completing resource cycles in the city. The research project consists of a series of design projects developed from collaborative workshops with stakeholders and SMEs which create new visions for improving neighbourhoods in North Belfast.
The aim of the project is to empower the Council to create a new vision of a future city, based on local distributed energy production and community resilience. The vision combines waste resource usage with local expertise in SMEs, with community action, to improve urban performance, not only from an economic perspective, but also from spatial, community and environmental viewpoints.
Challenges for the city
North Belfast has many problems familiar to post-industrial cities.
The space consists of a collection of isolated communities, with many social and economic problems. Belfast houses some of the most deprived communities in the UK, and these suffer from a range of problems:
Worklessness is high, educational attainment low, and the local economy is small. The project aims to develop local jobs through the insertion of localised heat and power into neighbourhoods, and develop spin offs in food production and through the e-hub.
Fuel poverty/ high utility bills
Belfast has one of the highest carbon footprints per capita in the UK. This leads to issues of fuel poverty amongst the poor. The project aims to develop cost-effective green power for neighbourhoods, which when combined with local enveloping schemes, will lower the carbon footprint and alleviate fuel poverty.
North Belfast in particular, has a large amount of road infrastructure, but low car ownership and poor public transport. The investment in public transport is difficult as due to urban shrinkage, there is actually very low urban density. Because of this car usage is high is affluent areas, but poorer areas have become isolated due to low car ownership. Because of this the City Council has an electric car campaign, which aims to engage car-based commuters with new low carbon technology. The opportunity in Belfast, is to develop a community-owned car share pool of electric cars for these communities, that combines the benefits of already low car ownership, with increased mobility and low carbon footprint.
Health and wellbeing are poor in the city, particularly in the North. Poor diet is a major contributor of this. The opportunity here is to extend and improve the provision of locally grown and community grown foods. It may be possible to develop a greenhouse-based food producing community enterprise, that may be able to sequest carbon and be heated by the Heat and Power plant, which will provide jobs and engage communities in growing food.
Poor community facilities/focus.
Communities in the North of Belfast, are disparate and lack facilities. The power plant will be linked with an e-Hub that provides highly connected workspace and encourages engagement with the new economy.
At present Northern Ireland imports almost all its energy from mainland UK, which make it vulnerable to fuel shortages and price-hikes. The project presents a different and replicable way of generating energy, owned and operated for the community. This project if replicated could go some way to reducing dependence on fossil fuels and create new opportunites, not only for community enterprises, but also for SMEs in the biomass business, of which Belfast has many.
The future city will be bio-genic and cyclical, rather than the present linear model. Organic waste is a renewable resource, that offers options for the visualisation of closed cycle urbanism, at an understandable scale, and process. This makes it an excellent choice for a demonstration scheme.
The localism agenda is growing, and this offers new ways for communities to engage with their own needs and functions. The project offers citizen empowerment in more than one way! In addition, it gives a new focus to the community that engages people in key needs : fuel, food, mobility and jobs.
Project 1 Social synergy
This Project looked at the use of biomass powered neighbourhood-scale district heating, which combined with local food production, and enhanced carbon-neutral mobility systems, developed a new carbon neutral future for the neighbourhood. The site is Glencairn in North Belfast.
Key resources: Biomass, chp, urban farming, snails, data hub, electrical mobility.
Project 2 Economic Synergy
This project investigated the use of waste materials in the city, to create new industries based on the phased redevelopment of built fabric. Utilising an exergy cascade system, the products developed from upcycling the paper, plastic and wood waste, are used to reclad and insulate the dilapidated homes of Northern Ireland. This creates a synergy where the new business not only reduces waste but also increases energy resilence and creates jobs.
Project 3 Water synergy
This scheme investigated the potential for hydro electric power for the city by utlising extant disused water sources in the City. By utlising fast-acting Kaplan turbines, the system could be used as a peak load shedding device, which maximizes economic gain, from a fixed renewable resource. When combined with re-cultivation of flax and urban farming, this new money can then be used by the community to develop a new local community resources and enhance public space. Location Ligoniel. Hydro electric, load sharing, smart grid tech, community enterprise,
Project 4 Data mining
Belfast is well-placed to invest in internet-based industries. This project looked at synergies created by mining data from city streams to make new urban data systems that increase the functionality of the city. The project utilized an open-source architecture and developed a new multi-scalar data interface. Location City-wide. Data stream, hacking, cloud sourcing, peer to peer urbanism.