A good city is like a good party – people stay longer than really necessary because they are enjoying themselves.

Not my words, but those of globally-renowned Danish city planner and urban visionary Jan Gehl. It is an interesting perspective that provides food for thought when thinking about our own Belfast city centre and, in particular, the space owned and accessed by all of us, known as public realm.

Would what’s currently in place invite people in and entice them to dwell longer than necessary? Unfortunately, the honest answer is no and that needs addressed as a matter of urgency.

The recently-reformed Northern Ireland Assembly’s collective in-tray will be bulging. However, a joined-up, strategic approach between the Department for Infrastructure, the Department for Communities and Belfast City Council needs to be on the agenda in order to raise the quality of Belfast’s public realm.

The city centre is our meeting place and our marketplace. It should be a cleaner, greener, safer environment that is attractive for living, working, studying, shopping, visiting and socialising.

Parts of our city centre feel rundown, disconnected and unwelcoming due to poor design, stagnated plans and lack of investment.

Public realm projects such as Streets Ahead and Cathedral Gardens have failed to progress, largely due to a lack of funding, but also due to the long-awaited delivery of the Eastern Transport Plan – a replacement of the previous Belfast Metropolitan Transport Plan of 2004.

Delays in delivery and failure to make progress at any pace are a major cause of frustration to people living and working in the city centre, not to mention those wishing to see our capital city advance and compete for talent and investment.

There are, of course, areas of the city that are vibrant and diverse, and offer a range of experiences. Places such as Cathedral Quarter and Queen’s Arcade are shining examples of Belfast’s potential as a thriving, attractive city largely thanks to private sector investment, and would be advanced further if they were supported by investment in public realm.

Belfast has an important role in driving economic and social prosperity for Northern Ireland but, for a place that is known for punching above our weight, we have one hand tied behind our back.

We have delivered some major investments like Ulster University and have a pipeline of many more including Belfast Stories, City Quays Gardens, Grand Central Station and Weavers Cross. We simply must fix the shared spaces linking these great schemes and deliver government-led public initiatives in parallel with, not years behind, everything else.

High-quality placemaking and the application of good urban design principles are vital to improving the physical landscape, enhancing green credentials, reducing carbon footprint and boosting the health and wellbeing of the communities that will enjoy them.

So, what are the solutions?

Increased investment is the obvious go-to and that is very much required. Sources of government funding for city centre regeneration that are in place throughout the UK, such as The Future High Streets Fund, have no equivalent in Northern Ireland. The UK government must deliver an equal and ring-fenced stimulus for this region.

City stakeholders across government and Council must do more to align their efforts and focus on outcomes rather than processes, injecting some pace to delivery.

Positivity can be gleaned from the Belfast Agenda Draft Action Plan, in which the Council committed up to £50 million for the delivery of A Bolder Vision (ABV) projects which include creating a civic spine, promoting city centre living and embracing the River Lagan and Waterfront – which will soon be reinvigorated by the exciting Maritime Belfast plans.

Plans are great but plans require implementation.

The Council has attracted substantial sums of money through developer contributions on a number of major applications since 2015, and a number of public realm initiatives have emerged from this. However, there is still more money and more plans that need progressed.

Investment in public realm is an opportunity for growth – an opportunity to reimagine our city and create a sustainable, attractive place for all.

It’s time for our city to join the party.