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Monday, January 6, 2014

Bridging Communities

By Katie Hutchens
The Peace Bridge in Derry/Londonderry stands strong across the Foyle River despite the January wind and rain. Opened in 2011, it connects the Unionist "Waterside" neighborhood and the Nationalist "Cityside" neighborhood. These two communities have a 400 year history of fighting, even including outright warfare at times. The Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, reached in 1998, officially called for an end to the fighting, and the neighborhoods are now permanently linked by this  14million physical embodiment of human connection and movement.

On this blustery afternoon, the journey across the footbridge to the "Waterside" area is slippery and not for the faint-hearted. The reward is a warm respite amongst displays of modern art, all nominees for the prestigious Turner Prize. The exhibits are housed on a site first designated for military use during the siege of Derry in 1689. Over the past few months, visitors from all over the world have come to view this artwork.

 The only shelter for the rain-soaked pedestrians on the walk back across the bridge to the "Cityside" area can be found behind clear glass windscreens. These allow for a quick photograph or a glimpse of the fast-moving tidal waters below. In the distance, a small field of pine trees can be seen at the end of the bridge. These trees are decorated for the Christmas season with tens of white paper squares. Each piece of paper contains a child's hand-written hope for the upcoming year.
 Perhaps as the years go by, the residents on both sides of the river (and political divide) will have a chance to use the new bridge, and while doing so may recognize that their children deserve the security to dream and hope for a better future.

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