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In the environmental domain, large quantities of data exist relevant for urban governance. The smart cities thinking and technologies allow for their much needed exploitation. This paper will explore the case of air quality.
Air quality at all scales has been researched intensively throughout the last decades, building also observational capacities for in situ and remote data collection. This effort has led to a strong legislation in the European Union, regulating the technologies for compliance monitoring and the obligations of the authorities to inform public. It has also resulted in improvements of the quality of air for many indicators (pollutants). However, European cities still occasionally suffer high pollution, and the population is asking for information, and action.
In the CITI-SENSE project (EU FP7 R&D contract nr. 308524, 2012-2016), we created Citizens Observatories on outdoor air quality in eight European cities, combining varying sources of information. This allowed us to investigate how people perceive air quality, and what information they may want to have about it – as opposed to what information would be useful for research or assessment purposes. We found that the public generally is little aware of the wealth of high-precision air quality information available from public sources, but is willing to overcome moderate technical difficulties to generate own measurements. Such measurements however pose communication challenges: we have also had to resolve the communication issues related to inconsistencies that arise when several technologies are used to generate similar data, namely, when electrochemical gas sensor technologies are used alongside the standardised instrumentation for quantification of gases in urban environment. For example, we used an indicator of air quality based on sensor devices’ measurements, but needed to convey how this information is different from the air quality information obtained from public compliance monitoring.
This experience clearly documents how the technological side needs to be matched with effort on the social side of the information generation and use. Techniques for combining data from different sources that at the same time allow to taking into account the characteristics of the measurements such as uncertainties, enable new visualisations of collected data. This in turn may prove important for the dialogue on urban governance.
Topic Area: [2.1] Urban and rural sustainability: Smart cities / Smart rural Abstract Type: Oral Presentation
Comments: Air quality, sensor technologies, information systems, co-design
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