The town grew up on medieval origins as a Victorian seaport where the River Lagan becomes Belfast Lough. It is a smaller Baltimore, a center of industry that was export-driven, like ships and linen, or import-driven, like cigarettes, and is going out of style. It has dignity and gritty charm. But as elsewhere along the industrial coasts of the world, what remains of the port moved downriver, leaving derelict banks and quays.
Does Belfast need a Baltimore Inner Harbor? You bet. Does it have material to work with? You bet, including a vibrant downtown that after 20 years of bombing and inhospitable security screening remains a healthy shopping district. With the subsidies Britain puts into Northern Ireland, the government developed a riverside development plan not unlike others in Britain and America.
Now the Enterprise Development Co. of Columbia, the brainchild of the retail and new town developer and Inner Harbor visionary James Rouse, is taking on the centerpiece of that river development, a 14-acre site at Laganbank, east of the grandiose City Hall. If it works, it should be chock full of culture, retailing, hotel and office space. If it doesn't all get built, it would still be immense within the scale of Belfast.