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Mayor Mikael Smed, Source: Vordingborg Municipality

Mikael Smed: Any mayor should be committed to co-creation and transparency when developing new policies

Mikael Smed: Any mayor should be committed to co-creation and transparency when developing new policies

An interview with the Mayor of Vordingborg, Denmark

Mikael Smed was appointed Mayor of Vordingborg Municipality in 2018. He is a member of the Social Democratic Party (S) and was elected to the municipal council in 2014. Before assuming office, Smed worked in law enforcement as a police commissioner. Now, he has spoken to TheMayor.EU to discuss the Danish municipality, its accomplishments, and the COVID pandemic.

Mr Mayor, how would you describe the Municipality of Vordingborg?

The Municipality of Vordingborg lies in the southern part of the island Zealand. The market towns Præstø, Stege and Vordingborg have soul and history, and all our local areas each have their qualities. Our citizens are proud of living here and of the incredible nature that our specific corner of Denmark possesses.

The Municipality of Vordingborg has the longest coastal line of all the municipalities in Denmark. The Cliffs of Møn are known worldwide and the Island is appointed UNESCO BIOSPHERE RESERVE for its wildlife, unique nature, and commitment to sustainable living.

The same area has been certificated ‘Dark Sky Park’ by the International Dark Sky Association (IDA) for possessing an exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights and a nocturnal environment that is specifically protected.

Our municipality is a well-known tourist destination, for Danes and foreigners. We have green visions for our municipality. And we are continuously working to evolve sustainable ways of living and doing business.

How have the towns evolved since you assumed office in 2018?

I can see that employment has risen and the general activity level of the economy has been on the rise. Me and my fellow local politicians have been a part of creating some of these possibilities.

For example, the development of an off-shore hub for wind-powered energy is something that has developed during the last few years and is something that has succeeded because of planning and investments by the city council. Also, our industrial harbour has been growing because of investments by the municipality.

As you mentioned earlier, a part of Vordingborg has been designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. How did your municipality earn this title?

We are very proud to be a part of the global UNESCO Man and Biosphere family. The appointment is a result of a three-year application process where we have documented our commitment to sustainable living, our unique nature, and our willingness to protect it. Furthermore, we are committed to developing new nature by working with landowners and finding new ways to work together.

Vordingborg places special importance on sustainable tourism. Could you please comment on the ways in which it demonstrates this?

We have just adopted a new tourism strategy which we have named a Sustainable Tourism Strategy for Vordingborg Municipality. It focuses on developing tourism in collaboration with the local inhabitants and adopting principles that protect nature against the stresses that can follow in the wake of tourists. For example, we are developing programs that channel funds from tourism to create more unique nature on the Island of Møn. In that way, nature gains directly from tourism.

Also, we are committed to finding new ways to transport tourists on the Island. We are developing schemes to channel transportation from private cars to public transportation. It is also a part of the Sustainable Tourism Strategy that the UNESCO Biosphere project should cover the entire municipality by the next review from UNESCO, which will be in 2027.

How has the pandemic impacted life and business in your municipality over the past year?

As in the rest of the world, the Municipality of Vordingborg has as well been affected by the pandemic. Many of our employees in the municipality have been forced to adopt new ways to do their work. Those who solve tasks in the administration have been sent to work from home.

Our schoolteachers have had to learn to teach in a different way as schools have been locked down for longer periods and the kids sent home to be taught in online classrooms. Those who work with care jobs such as our care workers and nursery teachers and those who care for the logistics have been at work as usual. But their everyday routines have also been changed when having to carry face shields, gloves and taking other precautions to look out for our citizens.

Some businesses in the Municipality of Vordingborg have struggled. Shops and cafés have in longer periods been shut down to prevent infection from spreading. Many parents have in periods had to take care of their kids at home while trying to manage their jobs. And our young and elderly people in the nursing homes have not had the same opportunities to gather relatives and friends as usual. The pandemic life has at large been a lonely time for many people.

Nevertheless, my impression is, that it has also brought our municipality new possibilities. Many businesses and employers have learned that when their employees are working from home it brings benefits to both the employees and their owners. Taking health precautions also means that fewer get ill. And being to some point isolated has led more people to seek nature for experiences and fresh air.

In our municipality, we have experienced that not only our own citizens have been enthusiastic about our nature. Tourists from all over our country have travelled to visit our wonderful sights, experience the wildlife in the biosphere areas and gaze at the starry dark sky above us. It is my impression that the pandemic has brought a wonderful new boost to cherish the nature that surrounds us and the fact that you do not need to travel far to get magnificent experiences.

What measures are being/will be taken for Vordingborg’s post-COVID recovery?

With spring here, low numbers of infected, and an increasing number of vaccinated citizens, our country is slowly starting to get back to a more normal life. In the Municipality of Vordingborg, we are taking all needed precautions to ensure that we are handling the reopening in a secure way.

Many are still working from home at large and will to some extent also have the possibility to do so in the future. Recently, our schools reopened, and it has been wonderful to be able to invite the kids back into our classrooms and into those communities that are so important to young people.

However, we are urging both the kids and their parents to be tested often to ensure that potential infections do not spread unnecessarily. In collaboration with the region, we offer test centres locally in our three larger cities that are open seven days a week.

We have continuously been working with local businesses and we have, for example, pushed forward investments in public infrastructure and buildings in order to boost activity and help employment.

Are there any projects or ideas you would like to share with other European mayors?

I believe that any mayor should be committed to co-creation and transparency when developing new policies, and indeed, in day-to-day work with the municipality. I find that the commitment, though, is not enough, but should be backed by structures that push in that direction, i.e. UNESCO biosphere.

It is simply too easy to get caught up in political processes and problem-solving and forget to listen. In Vordingborg, we have worked on a model for community democracy that sets a high standard for listening and including our citizens in the democratic conversation. My advice to the mayors of Europe would be to impose such obligations on themselves – in that way, we keep local democracy alive and well.   

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