What is SubUrbanLab?

Photo: Flickr/Justin Wong

About half of the world’s population lives in cities today. By 2030, a majority of the world population is expected to be city dwellers. The creation of well-functioning, attractive and sustainable citiesis thus important for meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Across Europe, some 200 million people live in suburbs characterized by old and badly planned urban systems in need of modernization and increased environmental, economic and social sustainability. Many contemporary urban challenges are particularly visible here. Segregation often becomes obvious, and it is also commonplace that poor urban planning and lack of modernization has contributed to unsafe urban environments.

Moreover, the buildings themselves often have high energy consumption and lack modern technology which could have limited its negative environmental impacts. Massive renovation of these urban areas to improve their sustainability is expected to be required over the next-coming years, but investments opportunities are often quite limited. Focusing on these less valued suburbs can make a significant contribution for cities’ overall development towards more attractive, sustainable and economically viable areas.

Technology and innovation today already has the potential to improve environmental performance and contribute to social sustainability in less valued suburbs. However, the necessary changes and modernization must be done in harmony and together with those who live, work and reside there.

Because of the variety of challenges in suburbs, interdisciplinary research and collaboration between different societal stakeholders, including the residents, is needed in the modernization process. This cooperation does not, however, occur by itself, but meeting places and arenas for dialogue need to be set up.

The project SubUrbanLab will use an Urban Living Lab approach, that is, create meeting places and forums for innovation which employ working methods and tools to integrate people into the development, planning and implementation processes of actions to modernize these suburbs, as users and co-creators in real contexts. The methods and tools used by the project will include web based tools (e.g. Owela), social medias, focus groups and others. The Urban Living Labs will be set up in connection to real modernization and social upgrading actions in Alby (Sweden) and Peltosaari (Finland).

The Urban Living Lab methods as well as the planned and implemented actions will be evaluated to further understand their effect on and contribution to a sustainable urban development. Furthermore, the potential for up-scaling on European level will be assessed.

Project objectives

  1. To develop and implement the Urban Living Lab methods for involving residents and other stakeholders in less valued suburbs.
  2. To develop and implement modernization and social upgrading actions based on involvement and co-creation with users and stakeholders using Urban Living Labs.
  3. To evaluate and assess the potential for the implemented actions and the co-creation methods of developed Urban Living Lab approach to be up-scaled across Europe.

In sum, the project seeks to address the following overarching research question: “How can methodologies and actions for urban modernization and social uplifting be developed, tested, and evaluated together with the residents and other stakeholders in Urban Living Labs, in order to contribute to transforming less valued suburbs into more attractive, sustainable and economically viable urban areas”?

Project Fact Box:

Project partners: IVL Swedish Environmental Research institute, Botkyrka municipality, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and City of Riihimäki

Project coordinator: Riikka Holopainen, D.Sc. (Tech.), Research Team Leader, VTT. email: riikka.holopainen(a)vtt.fi

Project duration: 3 years (1st  April 2013 – 1st April 2016)

Total budget: 1 million EUR

The project is funded by VINNOVA and Tekes through Joint Programming Initiative – Urban Europe.

What is Owela?

Owela is an online platform for open innovation and co-design with users, customers, developers and other stakeholders. Owela has foremost been used in the context of information- and communication technologies (ICT) but it can also be used for areas such as urban development. It provides tools for understanding users’ needs and experiences as well as designing new products and services together.

Owela project spaces may be used as a co-design space from the first ideas until the final product testing or only in selected phases of the innovation process (from 1 week to a few months). Project spaces can be either public or limited to a certain user group. The project workspaces can be generated in any language.

Owela has been developed and is administrated by VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland.