Digital Cities & Citizens

Jan Malmgren wants to give cities a village vibe

Caroline Wendt
August 9, 2021

Big cities like Barcelona, Singapore, Amsterdam and San Fransisco but also northern cities such as Ålborg, Oslo and Göteborg – all are working to become smart and sustainable. The community of Veberöd, situated in the eastern part of Lunds municipality, follows a similar vein yet does a bit different work. Jan Malmgren, the founder of Smarta Byar (Smart Villages), analyses what smart technology can do to increase well-being and social sustainability in a smaller community. His hope is that the work in Veberöd can even contribute to giving big cities village vibes.

Many big cities in the world and Sweden are working with digitalisation on the road to smart cities. Information and communication technology shall increase the life quality in and the effectivity of cities in a sustainable manner. Now, Sweden is a comparably sparsely populated country. According to SCB’s estimation there exist around 2000 urban settlements – from smaller ones with 200 inhabitants to big cities. More than 8,9 million people live in urban settlements which amounts to 87% of the population. Veberöd counts among one of the smaller settlements with 5600 inhabitants (SCB) in 2020.

Smarta Byar researches what a smart village could look and be like. The work started with the homepage and a Veberodsapp where companies, organisations and citizens can collaborate. In 2018, Byutveckling (Village Development), together with the platform Smarta Byar, became part of Future by Lunds project Smarta Offentliga Miljöer (SOM/ Smart Public Spaces). One of the first actions was to install a gateway for the LoRa-technique on a mast in Veberöd. After that, the first tests were run. Additionally, the existing sensors got connected and they are placed in, for example the cow trough on the meadow, in streetlamps and bicycles, the latter to prevent theft.

Why is it so important to test digital technology in villages when one could settle with copying solutions from the world’s smart cities?

– If the whole of Sweden shall develop then one needs to look at smart cities and smart villages, says Jan Malmgren, founder of Smarta Byar. Villages can be different from cities in many ways, like in that one thinks differently and that entrepreneurs strive for different things. There is a lot of advantages with living in a small community like it’s more personal, we have more space and many experience less stress. Something that can be negative is the distance and time it takes to go somewhere. When we started Smarta Byar there was a feeling that there is something villages could win by using smart technology. We have seen a possibility to minimise the distance by taking advantage of the digitalisation, so that we can work from home and enjoy the entertainment possibilities like movies and sport via local meeting points. The digitalisation can be used to increase security and get a better access to healthcare even on the countryside.  Villages don’t need to copy cities any longer to feel like fully functioning, well-doing communities.

A Fablab was created in central Veberöd where 18 3D printers are ready to be used by citizens. In the near future other machines such as laser printers and an embroidery machine will be added. A Fablab can contribute to increased local productions, less transport and packaging and so to a more resilient local community.  

– Technology is an important enabler but one has to know why one uses technology, says Jan Malmgren. For us it’s a tool to increase the life quality in a smaller community, so that it doesn’t only become economically and environmentally sustainable but also socially sustainable. I would say that this is something one can call a village feeling which is a part of it and at the base of the individual’s life quality. In future we want to research how one can measure and visualize the villages wellbeing. What we will come forward with will maybe c contribute to show that it is possible to create small part communities in the city where one feels seen and experiences more belonging and meaning. It could be part of the green wave that exists in society and it could provide cities with more wellbeing – simply a village vibe in the city.  

Veberöd also created a digital twin of itself through the SOM-project. By using this model citizens could communicate more clearly with the municipality, for example in matters of building permissions and error reports. Sensors are being connected to the digital twin which makes it interesting for students from universities. The students get a real-life example to practise on and Veberöd receives help via research and the development of the platform.

– I think we will find exciting solutions that even cities can profit from by creating a more global connection while we are simultaneously very local, says Jan Malmgren. Our flexibility and smallness are our advantages. Here, one can test things easily and quickly and maybe also cheaper than one would do in a big place. Veberöd can simply be a testbed and a research village where municipalities, companies and private people can see what we can do together to create something useful. Simultaneously, we get data about the village which we can use to analyse what is really sustainable in a small community and who knows maybe it is small villages that can teach cities something new?

Translated by Christin Scheller


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