During Derry’s ‘City of Culture’ year in 2013, an artwork was unveiled with the message, “Small City Thinks Big”. There is no better example of Derry thinking big than when it comes to major public events here.
Last month’s Maritime Festival was the latest such success for our city - with 150,000 people visiting the five day event and our riverfront transformed into a hive of activity. When it comes to such spectacles, this small city certainly does think big and council is to be commended for the work it has done on such events over the years.
However, to paraphrase a popular saying, thinking big should be for life and not just for Christmas (or Halloween). During the Maritime Festival, I regularly walked the length of Derry’s riverfront - past the fantastic array of food trucks and fairground rides, performers and pop-up retailers - and one key question kept arising: why is our riverfront not like this all the time, or, at the very least,all of the summer?
I also asked myself: why do we go to the cost and effort involved in setting up the Maritime Festival, only to dismantle it all again after just five days? And why is it only on one weekend a year that we make maximum use of our city’s greatest asset - the riverfront - before relegating it back to its perennial role as a through-road and car park?
Surely it is time to think bigger about ways to make better use of our riverside 365 days a year.
For centuries, our quayside was Derry’s trading hub with the world, the last bit of Irish soil that thousands of emigrants stepped on and, even, a contributor to the battle to defeat Hitler.
The role of Derry’s riverfont in the history of our city, this island and the world should be cherished and celebrated just as much as our Walled City is. And a meaningful overall identity should be created to help communicate that role to visitors and locals alike.
One such identity could be the creation of our very own ‘Maritime Mile’. The riverside walk from the Peace Bridge to Fort George is precisely a mile long and traverses centuries of history in the process.
There is a story to tell there and a mile of river frontage on which to do it.
We often talk in Derry about the River Foyle being our most important natural asset. And we all know that more could and should be done to take advantage of it. Yet there appears to be no plan in place to do that - or to create a meaningful identity and role for it, beyond rejuvenating the section along Queen’s Quay.
It’s surely time that this small city thought bigger and put a clear identity in place for our riverfront – one which can continue to attract visitors and locals all year round, and not just for five days every other summer.
○ Steve Bradley is a regeneration consultant. He can be followed on Twitter at @Bradley_Steve