The Smart Belfast Urban Innovation Framework 2022 – 2026 aims to stimulate collaborative innovation between local industry, SMEs, academia, government and communities to tackle some of Belfast’s most complex urban challenges.

Smart Belfast is based on the understanding that digital innovation has an increasingly dominant role to play in social, economic and environmental policy. Our ambition is to find ways to harness this innovation to better support Belfast’s transformation into a more productive and sustainable city that provides a rich quality of life for our citizens.

The framework looks at how urban innovation can contribute to the city’s wider strategic ambitions; the supporting pillars that need to be in place to maximise the potential for urban innovation; the specific urban innovation initiatives being delivered by Belfast City Council’s City Innovation Office; and an overview of the Belfast Smart District.

The Smart Belfast Urban Innovation Framework looks at four key areas:

1. Belfast’s ambition

The city is developing long term plans to address key economic, social and environmental challenges. Urban innovation has much to offer to help tackle these challenges and also contribute to Belfast’s transformational journey towards sustainability and global success. The framework aims to align with and support the city’s wider strategic ambitions outlined in The Belfast Agenda, A Bolder Vision for Belfast, Belfast Resilience Strategy, Future City Centre programme, Belfast Economic Strategy and Belfast Region City Deal.

2. Belfast’s urban innovation ecosystem

Cities that have been most successful in adopting innovation to support their wider strategic ambitions have established an enabling environment that encourages a culture of collaboration between many institutions and individuals.

We have identified eight pillars which will support Belfast’s urban innovation ecosystem and make the city better equipped to develop and deploy novel solutions to complex challenges, while at the same time make Belfast one of the world’s most attractive locations for innovation investment:

  • Collaborative leadership – Effective partnerships that foster collaboration across industry, academia and the public sector.
  • Urban challenges – A challenge-led approach to finding innovative solutions to city challenges.
  • A focus on the citizen – Placing the needs of the citizen at the heart of our approach to digital innovation.
  • A vibrant innovation economy – A successful, growing urban economy to drive digital innovation.
  • Data environment – Unlocking data to support digital transformation and drive forward Belfast’s innovation economy.
  • Financing, procurement and adoption – Investment in innovation, supporting routes to commercialisation and adoption of innovative solutions in the public sector.
  • Technology infrastructure – Accessible, world-class connectivity and data infrastructure.
  • Place-making – A whole-place approach that recognises Belfast’s unique historical and geographical characteristics and the role they play in supporting our innovation ambitions.

3. Key projects and programmes

Belfast City Council’s City Innovation Office is committing to a series of specific initiatives to maximise the impact of urban innovation on Belfast’s strategic priorities:

  • Citizen Opportunities for Digital Innovation (CODI) – Citizens have an important role to play in urban innovation and CODI will support Belfast residents to better understand the role of and impact of data and digital technologies on urban life, enabling them to actively participate in the co-design of digital innovation projects to address issues which are important to them.
  • Maritime Mile Innovation Hub – Belfast is a leading city in a €7.9 million European project that aims to transform historic urban areas through innovation. The City Innovation Office has partnered with the Maritime Belfast Trust to deliver an exciting Hub of Innovation – or Hub-IN for short – along the Maritime Mile in the city’s Titanic Quarter to create opportunities for local innovative entrepreneurship.
  • Amplitude: Wireless Belfast – Wireless networks will become the next generation backbone for innovative digital services in areas such as advanced manufacturing, connected health, film making, tourism and retail. The Amplitude programme will make Belfast the place for wireless innovation, investment and exploitation.
  • Urban Innovation for NetZero – Belfast’s ambition to achieve carbon net zero by 2050 is a challenging undertaking. We are developing a joint programme of work with Belfast City Council’s Climate Team to find ways to stimulate collaborative innovation in areas such as urban mobility and energy production, transmission and management.
  • Belfast Urban Data Ecosystem – Recognising the underlying importance of data to urban systems and the innovation economy, this initiative focuses on those investments and activities necessary to foster a shared urban data ecosystem.
  • Growing Healthy Urban Neighbourhoods – Belfast currently struggles with some of the worst health outcomes in the UK. The city is also facing demographic changes, with 40% of its population projected to be over 50 by the mid- 2030s. This represent profound challenges for policy-makers, not only in the design of new health interventions, but also for planning, transport, housing and other urban services. The Healthy Urban Neighbourhoods programme will collaborate with the city’s health sector, businesses, housing providers, community planning partners and universities to maximise the opportunities represented by urban innovation.
  • Accelerating the SME Innovation Ecosystem – Supporting Belfast’s significant and growing innovation economy is key to the success of Smart Belfast. We will work to complement existing business development activity and deliver a £54 million challenge fund for SMEs.
  • Augment the City – This initiative will provide a challenge fund competition to bring together industry partners, our universities and the local creative digital sector to re-imagine the city centre experience through the creative adoption of advanced wireless networking, cloud computing, and immersive technologies.
  • Supporting Advanced Urban Services – We are working directly with council’s departments and other public bodies to build greater innovation capacity, and to co-design interventions to establish advanced urban services for a twenty-first century city. This includes tackling significant challenges related to waste, net zero and the future of Belfast city centre.

4. The Belfast Smart District

The physical location for our programme of work is the Belfast Smart District. Co-terminous with Belfast city centre, the District is the place
where we will foster the conditions for collaborative innovation focused on Belfast’s major urban challenges.

This is the place where we want partners to work with us on novel solutions to these challenges. And, when they succeed, we want to make sure these solutions are scaled or replicated across our city and region.

We are working with partners to leverage their planned investments for the city centre and attract public and private innovation funding to generate opportunities for experimentation, testing, and the development of advanced urban solutions that directly address real-world challenges.

The Smart District will be the place where Belfast can demonstrate and showcase its talent and ingenuity to the world.

Public consultation on framework

A public consultation on the draft Belfast Urban Innovation Framework took place between January and March 2022 to get constructive contributions and feedback from stakeholders and citizens to ensure that the final framework is robust and helps to deliver our city’s urban ambitions.

The final framework was approved by Belfast City Council’s Strategic Policy and Resources Committee in December 2022.