Note from Mel:  If you click on a photo in the mosaic above, you can see a slideshow of the photos and read the descriptions  😉

The day began with an introduction to our team headquarters at City Hall:  we have been installed in the Emergency Planning suite, the control room where City officials manage emergencies and crises.  The main room is dominated by the red numbers of a large digital clock that ticks by the minutes over a central conference table.  Computers stand silently around its perimeter.  Behind the main room is a suite with a kitchen, bathroom, a small call center,  and various meeting rooms available during the long hours put in by staff during an emergency.

Next, we were given a tour of City Hall by a delightful woman who had been an employee of Belfast for 37 years.  She described rooms, art and artifacts with a deep, booming voice that rose or fell with the significance of each item.  Cautionary tales and innocuous secrets were told in a whisper (like when she pointed out “marble” bannister and columns that were actually painted wood!). 

Following the tour, the official launch of the Smarter Cities Challenge with stakeholders:  we heard yesterday that 70 would attend but by 10am, the number of participants was 90.  After photos as a team and with the Lord Mayor, we were ushered into a large hall with 10 circular tables.  Each IBMer sat at a table with approximately 10 stakeholders, representatives from various city departments, the City Council and areas of Belfast.  The Lord Mayor introduced the project, greeting guests with jovial aside comments, followed by remarks by IBM’s General Manager for Ireland and our Corporate Citizenship Manager for Europe, the Middle East and Africa.  The 6 of us on the team introduced ourselves in turn and the meeting was completed with 90 minutes of discussion on the issue of deprivation and segregation.  The walls reverberated with the deep drone of many animated conversations.

We headed back to the hotel to change into jeans, then clamored onto a small bus for a tour of the two areas of the city that will be the subject of our project (one East, one West).  In each, we saw the physical manifestations of decades of segregation and distrust:  walls, fences, flags, gates, barred windows and murals.   The ongoing legacy of the Troubles was described by city officials throughout the day, culminating in a meeting with a Minister who provided perspective on the politics of Northern Ireland within the context of the broader UK and her local efforts to effect social change. 

It would be fair to say the enormity of the challenge facing Belfast was clearly illuminated for us today.  The reactions we had as a team to the things we saw and discussed was quite fascinating in itself and, I have to believe, was a small sample of the range of reactions that citizens of Belfast themselves have experienced for so many years.  I was surprised at my own reaction:   hope and optimism at the seedlings of unity that also were evident throughout Belfast.  For if we learned anything at all today, it would be that although Belfast’s troubles are far from over, people are resilient, even in the face of their greatest challenges.  #smartercities Challenge