Writing on the Walls... Adam seeks to bring about new shared vision of Derry city centre

Urban design student Adam Trafford is seeking local street musicians, performers and graffiti artists for a shared vision of the Derry Walls.

Wednesday, 15th September 2021, 11:55 am

Adam is currently doing a Masters of Science in City Planning & Design at Queen’s University in Belfast. He believes the city centre is commandeered by traffic.

“I am doing my thesis on how a more equitable, accessible and human scale Walled City could be redesigned,” he said.

Derry was the only city or town in Northern Ireland listed by the World Health Organisation, in a study in 2016, found to have exceeded the WHO air pollution limit of 10 micrograms of fine particles per cubic metre.

Adam Trafford.

“Derry had an estimated 11 micrograms, making it one of the worst 29 urban centres in the UK for particulate matter in the air.”

The course Adam is studying takes into account the importance of maintaining our natural and built environments.

In Urban Design there is a term known as nodes, which are strategic spots in a city into which an observer can enter.

“Nodes are major points where people choose where they want to go,” said Adam.

Adam Trafford.

“The Diamond is quite good because you can see fairly easily where it is leading you. It has the potential to be a major node, but it is being wasted because it is a thoroughfare for pedestrians to get to point A or point B as fast as they can. I did a lot of public life study on street upgrades along Ferryquay Street.

“One thing I did notice was that everyone walking along Ferryquay Street had their head down, walking as fast as they could.”

Whilst studying in Belfast Adam was the founder and former Chair of the UPLAN Society.

This group was set up to help students broaden their knowledge and links to planning practises. Adam stresses that the current system inside the Walled city is a danger for vulnerable people in our society.

Foyle MLA Sineand McLaughlin with Adam Trafford.

“Why in this day and age do we still allow HDVs (heavy duty vehicles) inside the Walled City past 11am?” questioned Adam.

“I think especially for Derry you need to be realistic in the fact that the topography is a major challenge.

“I watched an elderly gentleman nearly get knocked down. There was a HDV coming around and it had to slam on the brakes.”

Adam demonstrates examples of how dangerous the traffic can be to people who are visually impaired. He has found that simple tasks like crossing a road could lead to an accident.

The cover of Adam's thesis.

“I had Guide Dogs NI out with me and they very kindly invited a local resident along,” he said.

“It’s very easy to forget that we’re viewing it from the perspective of an able-bodied pedestrian.

“We talk about street clutter, if you’re in a wheelchair the topography is awful.”

Speaking about a local woman and user of Guide Dogs NI - he said: “A guide dog is there to act as a barrier for anything around her surroundings that she can’t see.

“This is her city, why is she not able to come into her city and feel safe crossing a two metre wide street.

“A very interesting knock on effect from the one-way system in Ferryquay street is you now have a greatly increased amount of traffic.

Parkland idea.

“It’s horrifying, there are lots of obstacles for someone with visual impairment.”

For his thesis Adam conducted a public survey in order to gauge an understanding of people’s attitudes towards change to our city landscape . He says there is “definitely an appetite.”

“Every single person I’ve spoken to has all agreed that the city centre isn’t functioning for pedestrians,” said Adam.

“If it isn’t functioning for pedestrians, it isn’t functioning for businesses, because businesses aren’t seeing the foot-fall.

“We are in a very, very opportune time.

“There’s a lot of momentum behind making change in the Walled City and the wider Derry city area.

“We’ve Hallowe’en, that opens everyone’s eyes up to what the city can be. The Walled City during Hallowe’en is pedestrianised.

“The whole space is activated and there’s events. It is a no brainer why we only do it one night a year. We could be doing it, if not all the time, once a week. Cork is a prime example of what can happen. A lot of the streets in Cork were temporarily pedestrianised, now around 18 streets are now being made permanently pedestrianised.

“That’s because they saw an uptake in the amount of foot-fall, which has had a knock on effect of more business. Austins is the world’s oldest independent department store. What is the council’s ambition for it? I know it’s privately owned, but the council should be pushing for it to be used.”

The council announced last March that the city centre limits would become a one-way system fora time. These plans were to enable a “more pedestrian and trader friendly” city centre.

Adam feels the council should be “applauded,” but needs to show more ambition.

“I have always had it in my head that the city centre wasn’t performing.” He said.

“In terms of my thesis, it’s only really been knocking about since late April, early May. Once it’s in your head, you can’t get it out. I’ve spent about 150 hours up here in the last month and half, and it’s shocking.”

Adam is influenced by Lewis Mumford, who was a pioneer in American architecture and urban planning.

He passed away in 1990 at the age of 94.

Since the 1920s Mumford’s studies and writings have influenced the future designs of city landscapes. Whilst observing the Diamond from a public bench, Adam makes reference to one of Lewis Mumford’s quotes: “Forget the damned motor car and build cities for lovers and friends.”

“Even sitting here you can hear the noise, the smell and the exhaust,” said Adam.

“It’s not an appealing place to sit. So why are we encouraging people to sit down beside where exhaust fumes are coming out of?”

He however praised the local Council. “This shows their ambition, this shows ‘look, we want to do stuff.’

“There are a myriad of intricacies with getting even this put together - like your DFI roads, you’ve the architects you’re working with and local businesses.

“It’s by no means an easy task. The planners, the local politicians and local government that actually saw this through... great job. But learn from this, see what else you can do, show a bit more ambition.”