ClairCity: citizen-led air pollution reduction

/ Author: Miriam van der Sangen
© Hollandse Hoogte / Marco Okhuizen
A consortium of universities, research institutes, non-profit organisations and local authorities has reaped first-time successes in the ongoing ClairCity project. This project – funded by the European Union – was launched in 2016 to promote active citizen involvement in reducing air pollution and CO2 emissions in six different European cities. Breathing air pollution causes heart attacks, lung cancer and even premature death. Pollution is also detrimental to the economy. Statistics Netherlands (CBS) has been actively involved in this project, along with Trinomics, the University of West England and 14 other European collaborative partners. The first annual ClairCity conference was held recently in Szentendre (Hungary), which is a good reason to take a closer look at this project together with some of the parties involved.

Research and innovation

Director of this innovative EU project is Hans Bolscher of Trinomics, an international consultancy that for many years has been active in consulting on climate change, environment and sustainability. ‘Our company specialises in providing economic policy advice to the European Union, World Bank and other international public organisations. We have our headquarters in Rotterdam and sister organisations in Belgium, the UK, Germany and Singapore.’ In 2015, the EU was seeking proposals for projects that would require active involvement from European citizens in improving local air quality and reducing local CO2 emissions as part of the EU’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme. ‘We submitted a proposal together with a consortium of 15 other partners. Our entry was selected along with two other entries from a total of 40,’ says Bolscher.

Air pollution issues

The ClairCity project lasts altogether four years. The first year has elapsed and has seen major advances. Bolscher is enthusiastic about it, praising the great collaboration between all parties involved. What are the results so far? ‘Over the first six months, we converted our proposal into a number of specific, concrete activities. For instance, we had analyses conducted of the local air quality in the six cities that are part of the pilot for this project: Bristol (UK), Amsterdam (the Netherlands), the Aveiro region (Portugal), Ljubljana (Slovenia), Sosnowiec (Poland) and the Liguria region (Italy). Each city has its own individual issues with air pollution, and is seeking to improve air quality. We then looked at the instruments we could use to communicate about air quality with city residents: by providing, for example, specially produced games and apps for smartphones, tablets and laptops, through which citizens can provide suggestions about what they think should be future developments in their city.’ Contacts were initiated in May with residents of Bristol. ‘We talked with them about their expectations in terms of cleaner air and lower CO2 emissions for the future. We linked their input to the different policies.’

Raising awareness

Enda Hayes is technical director of the ClairCity project. He is affiliated with the University of West England, Bristol and in charge of all technical aspects of the project as well as the scientific results. ‘Over the past year, we have worked hard in order to develop a fully integrated methodological approach for this study together with our partners. We worked closely with representatives from the various cities to establish vital contacts, map data flows and conduct interviews with a view to outlining policies for each city or region.’ As Hayes explains, the DELPHI process was launched in Bristol, with over 500 citizens sharing their views on how to improve their city, and how to tackle air pollution. According to Hayes, citizens need to grasp the implications of air pollution in order to get motivated: ‘Instead of using technical measures to combat air pollution – e.g. imposing European standards for road users – we want citizens to become owners of the problem. We also want to offer them tools that enable them to make better-informed decisions for future air quality in their own city. These decisions should eventually become the social norm. We offer things like online games, an app, workshops, school competitions and events.’ When can the ClairCity project be called a success? ‘In the long term, we aim to develop a standard approach towards policy development together with residents of all European cities, for policies that are effective and supported, improve air quality and cut down on CO2 emissions. In short, a healthy future for all citizens.’

Data portal

Olav ten Bosch is project manager for the ClairCity project at CBS. As one of the first contributions, he and his colleagues developed the ClairCity data portal. In this data portal, the various partners in the project contribute the necessary data to form datasets. Each dataset contains fields with metadata, including a title, description, tags, quality aspects and so on. Developing this data portal was a very interesting job for ten Bosch. ‘We have a great deal of experience with all types of data management, but that is usually focused on CBS data. Now, we focus more on external data and on collaborating with European partners. We have been working with partners including PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency and Transport & Mobility Leuven (TML). Every organisation contributed something from their own specialism.’ The data portal contains figures obtained from different sources including neighbourhood and district data, traffic data, air quality and energy data, etc. Ten Bosch refers to the ClairCity-project website, which presents shocking facts regarding the impact of air pollution on people’s health. ‘This is why it is vitally important to retrieve such data, because after all, measuring is knowing.’