Living Labs engage citizens in urban air quality improvements
The past 50 years have seen European cities adopt new pollution control policies, air quality-related regulations and remediation technologies to conform to ever more stringent standards. But even though these are welcomed improvements, the 800 000 premature deaths caused by pollution every year – in the EU alone – act as a constant reminder of the need to do more. For members of the EU-funded iSCAPE consortium, this need doesn’t only concern public authorities. It should involve all citizens, to help inform better policies and make the most of available technologies. By leveraging passive control systems and behavioural changes, the project launched in September 2016 hoped to help achieve air pollution-free cities. A tale of six cities Six cities have been selected for the project’s research: Bologna, Bottrop, Dublin, Guildford, Hasselt and Vantaa. In each of these cities, the team led by Dr Francesco Pilla from University College Dublin (UCD) started by conducting a thorough and neutral assessment of existing and future challenges and opportunities for each city with respect to air quality and climate change. “Once the possible solutions were identified, we initiated a dialogue with the citizens and relevant stakeholders of each test city through Living Labs, to assess non-technical challenges to the implementation of relevant passive control systems and behavioural interventions,” Dr Pilla explains. “Those activities are then integrated thanks to the use of sensing technologies and the development of two quality monitoring kits.” The first, high-end monitoring kit assesses the effectiveness of the implemented solutions, which can consist of low boundary walls, trees and hedge-rows, green walls and roofs, photocatalytic coatings, urban design or road geometry. The second one, however, is perhaps the main singularity of the project: a low-cost monitoring kit to involve and educate citizens, and ultimately build a community around the global challenge of air pollution. “As such, iSCAPE focuses on research activities. We ran air quality and meteorological simulations at various scales to pre-empt the effects and improve the impact of our solutions, as well as extensive monitoring to assess the effectiveness of these solutions. This evaluation was then complemented by simulations having a direct impact on population behaviour. These include bottom-up feedback for policymakers, which links anthropogenic urban activities to environmental models. The idea is to provide new insights into how traffic policy measures need to be designed to improve environmental quality,” says Dr Pilla. Each city a unique case Each of the cities running an iSCAPE Living Lab was treated differently, based on the results of the assessment phase. The project consortium identified the most pressing issues for each one and prioritised actions accordingly. For example, the priority in Bologna and Dublin was to create a ‘living lab mindset’ among relevant stakeholders. In Bottrop, the team focused on understanding the role of ‘sensors and citizens’, while in Guildford, Hasselt and Vantaa, the focus was on ‘communicating the project’ and on establishing more collaborative relationships with stakeholders, respectively. In each city, the project team provided a bespoke practical guide for citizen engagement, while promoting a sense of ownership of the Living Lab to ensure that the interventions would outlive the project. All in all, iSCAPE successfully provided: scientifically-validated results and evidence-based data for stakeholders; guidelines and policy recommendations; advanced sensing technologies; new ideas and promising concepts; and increased collective awareness of air pollution and its impact on city life.
iSCAPE, living labs, air quality, passive control systems, citizens, monitoring kit