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Google Earth Exercise: Chapter 9

Political Geography: Belfast as a Case Study

The segregation of Northern Ireland into Catholic and Protestant factions is most evident in the city of Belfast, where most people attend school and socialize in distinct areas of the city. The partitioning of space, as described in your textbook, is clearly visible on the streets of Belfast. A network of “peace walls” intersects the city in areas previously subject to rioting and sectarian clashes between Catholics and Protestants. Though a peace agreement was reached in Northern Ireland, the contentious walls remain and exert an influence over every aspect of city life.

The task: Using street view in Google Earth examine the boundaries and interiors of Catholic- and Protestant-dominated neighbourhoods and gain an understanding of how the city is divided in various locations, and how segregation is manifested in the urban form.

Step 1: Ensure that the “roads” layer and the “borders and labels” layer are enabled. Download the chapter9.kmz file. Two layers are included. The Protestant layer is an overlay of all census “Small Areas” that reported in excess of 50 per cent Protestant population while the Catholic layer is an equivalent for adherents of that faith. Note that the lightest shades correspond to a minimum 50 per cent of total populations belonging to that particular faith, while darker shades indicate a near homogeneity of religion. Clicking on any area will display exact statistics.

Step 2: Locate Cupar Way in Belfast using the search box.

Step 3: Select the street view drop pin from the navigation controls menu in the top right of the viewport. Drop the pin onto Cupar Way, an area that divides two Protestant and Catholic neighbourhoods.

Question 1: What built features characterize this street? What amenities (e.g., shops and services, landscaping, benches, etc.) are evident? What are the proportions of Catholics and Protestants on either side of the street?

Step 4: Enable the “places” layer. Using street view and satellite view, explore the interiors of both Catholic and Protestant dominated areas.

Question 2: What effect does the political geography of this city have on its structure? How do the internal areas of the neighbourhoods differ from the border areas? Does the segregated design of the city influence the design of neighbourhood interiors?

Question 3: What do the unshaded areas of the map represent? What parts of the city are not coloured by the choropleth? What amenities are found here? (Refer to the places layer)

When you have answered the three questions above, scroll to the bottom of the page to check your answers.


Question 1: Characterized by a ~10m high wall, the street is largely devoid of life, no pedestrians are evident and the wall prevents the establishment of shops or services on the road.

Question 2: The boundaries between predominantly Catholic and Protestant areas are generally underdeveloped zones. Internal neighbourhood areas thrive, while toward their periphery there is little commerce, industry or pedestrian traffic. In exploring the neighbourhoods, you may have noticed that fences are much more commonplace than in most North American cities. The “peace fence” is thus reflective of a tradition of delineating territory.

Question 3: The unshaded areas of the city are those with less than 50 per cent of residents reporting a particular religious affiliation. This may mean that no particular faith dominates, or that Catholics and Protestants share these neighbourhoods with other faiths or those not reporting an affiliation. The central axis of the city is largely unshaded and contains many common cultural and commercial institution including universities, banks, galleries and a commercial district.