Circular Cities: lessons from Malmö, Sweden

What can we learn from one of the most sustainable cities in the world?

You might be familiar with the circular economy, now it’s time to get acquainted with circular cities. 

By 2050, two-thirds of us will live in cities. And these sprawling metropolises will contribute over 50% of global waste and consume 75% of natural resources. 

We need to better manage the modern city-scape to ensure our lifestyles don’t compromise the planet. 

A circular economy remasters how we live. It rejects our throwaway lifestyle, and changes how we view the things we need, which in turn, creates a culture of less waste and presents new opportunities for sustainable growth.

Feeding this loop? Circular Cities. 

The key concepts that underpin a Circular City are: systems integration, flexibility, recycling, renewable resources, intelligence and cooperative behaviour. 

Throw green infrastructure into the mix and suddenly cities are able to better manage major climate issues including stormwater, heat stress, biodiversity and air quality.

It’s time to use nature as a template. 

And Malmö in Sweden has pretty much nailed just that. 

Malmö is the third-largest city in Sweden with a population of over 300,000, but it wasn’t always the ultra-green hub it is now. It was one of the earliest and most industrialised towns in Scandinavia, but Malmö struggled to adapt to post-industrialism and was left to rot into urban decay. 

Malmö Shipyard, 1946

West Harbour, Old Shipyard – Urban Decay to Urbane Hub

The West Harbour district was once home to the city shipyard. When it closed in the 1980’s thousands were left jobless, and thus the old shipyard fell into disrepair and became a barren wasteland leaking oil and toxic debris.

So the city took action, and successfully converted the area into a busy residential district supplied by 100% renewable energy. The houses here were built from sustainable materials and are powered by a 2MW wind turbine that provides 99% of their electricity. 

To drive your own car around Western Harbour is considered unusual. The 4,000 people who live there park outside the residential area, and journey by bus into the city centre, or car share which has become greatly popular in the city. 

It’s not just the old shipyard that was revived, different pockets of Malmö were turned into eco-friendly enclaves, taking advantage of energy efficiency, cleaner transport, green building and renewable energy. 

Augustenborg – Green Roofs 

Augustenborg – victim of frequent flooding – is another district that’s undergoing green development. 

In 1998 the city invested in a stormwater runoff system to divert the water into canals and ponds. Now 90% of the runoff flows directly into watercourses and is naturally cleaned by flora and fauna before reaching the ocean.

Taking things one step further to ensure residents avoid flooding, the city has also implemented green roofs. 

Taking inspiration from Augustenborg’s example of urban greening, Malmö now houses 9,000 square metres of green roofs that absorb rainwater, clean the air and provide insulation. Green roofs also help reduce the urban heat island effect during hot weather and provide habitat for migrating birds. The city even puts on an annual beauty contest for the best-looking roofs!

Hyllie – A Centre For Sustainable Smart Tech 

But where Malmö has really invested in smart tech is Hyllie. Around 30,000 people live in this central region. 

In 2011 the City signed an agreement with VA Syd (Malmö’s waste management company) and EON to make Hyllie one of the most climate-smart boroughs in the region. By the end of 2020, the district will have around 9,000 homes and nearly as many office spaces, all powered by renewable or recycled energy.

Moreover, Hyllie has become the smart technology testing centre for all of Malmö, rolling out pilot schemes before they are fully implemented across the rest of the city. So far, these pilot projects have used behavioural science theories to encourage people to sort and recycle waste and mobile recycling centres so residents don’t have to transport recycling by car. Another project in its early stages is allowing consumers to monitor and adjust their energy use depending on the weather, all from their smartphone. 

It feels like the city of Malmö has taken different districts and given them their own twist on sustainability. Together, they form a perfectly balanced approach to city living. The foundation of circularity that underpins Malmö actively tackles the depletion of resources through incorporating solar, wind and biofuel technologies in their efforts. In doing so, it’s transformed itself into one of the most sustainable cities in the world.

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