How this Swedish village with 5,000 residents became Scandinavia’s first Fab City
The driving spirit Jan Malmgren tells how everything started by accident when his then 11-year-old son started a website 13 years ago and created a communication platform — without realizing it.
By JOHAN MAGNUSSON
September 29, 2021
The 57-year-old Malmgren is an engineer with a variegated yet exciting background.
— I’ve encrypted the Nigerian Central Bank, built production lines, designed a titanium camera — and now changed my life to rural development for a sustainable society with Smart Villages in Veberöd in the southern part of Sweden.
How’d you describe the village of Veberöd?
— I would say that it’s small enough and with local engagement to have a real village feeling. Adding the stunning nature, it is a place to relax, work, and be creative in. The citizens are proud and open to new things. A village is different than cities — cities are often anonymous and the business is different. In villages, we work a lot locally with people we trust instead of with the lowest price. When my then 11-year-old son started a website 13 years ago, we created a communication platform without realizing it. It is with this mentioned trust we can start a project like Smart Villages (Smarta Byar), Malmgren tells, continuing,
— It started in 2018 with an IoT platform. IoT, Internet of Things, is like an internet to connect very small sensors. With this platform, we made a lot of proof of concepts. It was small tests that show what technology can do for the rural part of Sweden. We connected water bins for cows, telling when water is running low, smart trees telling us when they need water, tracking bikes, smart street lamps, and even using AR to connect doctors remote and much more.
— 3D-printing is also really something that can help out when we need local products. It started a year ago when corona came and we did not have protection visors here for hospitals and elderly care. So we bought 18 printers and produced 3,000 visors during 6 weeks. This was the seed that made us understand that 3D printing really has a place for local production. In Veberöd we have clay. With that in mind, we also bought a 3D printer in cooperation with Halmstad University. We showed that we can make lampshades, cups, and other useful things for the village. Through local courses in 3D printing, where some participants are only 6 years old, we want to give knowledge how to make products with and for the village.
You recently became a Fab City. What is that?
— Fab City Global Initiative is a global project aimed at developing local production and globally connected self-sustaining local communities. At the heart of the initiative is a network of cities, regions, and countries trying to find local approaches to produce pretty much everything that the village, city, and community consume by 2054. By the end of 2020, more than 30 cities had taken up the challenge. Now, Veberöd becomes a new member. We’re the smallest and the northernmost member — and the first member in Scandinavia, Malmgren tells. He continues:
— FabLab (Fabrication Laboratories) is an important part of this. It is a place where you use machines like 3D printers, scanners, CNC, laser cutters, and other stuff to produce with local materials. FabLab started at MIT and there are now more than 2,000 of them globally. This gives a unique possibility to design and then ”teleport” it so that others can download and then use the same kind of machines anywhere. This means that transportation is going down to a minimum and we can cooperate in design. The industry today relies very much on distributing their products and I would say that this gives big possibilities to help the environment — but new business models have to be developed.
How can Veberöd work as a role model for other Scandinavian and European cities?
— Veberöd has 5,000 citizens today and the village is just now in the process to build for 8,000 citizens. This gives a great opportunity to actually raise the question of how to make a sustainable village real. We have created a 5 square kilometer big 3D model of the village. This means that you can make visualizations of new areas and get feedback since, basically, everyone understands 3D a lot better. You even can walk around in VR in the village and get a whole new understanding of what it will look like. The vision is ”visualize, vote, and build”.
What other projects do you have coming?
— The 3D model of the village has also been evolved to a digital twin, Malmgren shares. That means we can measure things in the real world and present it in the emulated digital twin. We measure temperatures, if the swings are swinging, air pollution, water consumption, and so on. When we build cities or villages, we often put more priority on economical and ecological sustainability, but how to include social sustainability? This is the next project that we want to do, to try to measure happiness, health, loneliness, and so on. Let’s say that we include the heatmap of water consumption to health and connect an AI to it? Then we can see if we are healthier in areas where we use more water.
— Today, we also invite companies to join us as members. We already have universities connected, including a ”copy” of our village at Halmstad University. Our goal is to have researchers connected to deploy projects and collaborate globally on how to make the Village of the future. The possibilities are enormous if we, in this way, can measure how a small society works and what makes a place a place we love and can prosper in, says Malmgren. He concludes:
— And, don’t forget… cities can be seen as consisting of villages, so the knowledge can be shared on how to develop prosperous cities too.