How to do urban planning and reduce air pollution

Posted At 2018 Sep 18 in Smart City


Urbanisation has enormous environmental consequences too. Despite the efforts of some mayors to handle the level of air pollution in their cities, in most cases the quality of the air that we breathe in the cities is deteriorating due to a variety of reasons; the increasing population in urban places, rising car usage, limitations in parking, as well as factories operations.

Apart from the obvious damaging consequences to our health, there is also significant negative impact on the economy of each country. For example, last year alone the costs of air pollution to the National Health Service (NHS) and social care in England were estimated to be £157 million. The latest findings, published in a report from PHE, warn these costs could reach as much as £18.6 billion by 2035 unless action is taken. The researchers explain that these figures are based on costs related to GP doctor visits, medical prescriptions, hospital treatment and social care due to long-term health conditions, and do not take into account economic impacts due to lost productivity. Unfortunately, the economic cost and health impact is tremendous in every country that suffers from similar problems.

With the power of IoT and AI, the cities have the ability to understand at a granular level and in real time the biggest air pollution problems, the cause, who is affected and what it means for the citizens. With all these real-time insights the city administrators can take informative decisions about how to tackle the problems and how to prioritise their investments. I am sure in the future we will even see real-time decision making and actions in order to improve the air in the polluted neighbourhoods.

Today there are a variety of air quality sensors that can be placed in public means of transport, smart furniture such as smart lights, smart benches or anything else that can be connected, such as rubbish bins, bus stations, or bikes. Some environmental information is publicly available and some can be provided to the local councils in low or no cost on exchange to something else (i.e. license to use city space or add sensors on city furniture). Apparently, if the data from the sensors that measure the air quality is combined with anonymous mobile data from the network of mobile operators, such as of O2, then the insights can be really valuable, as described above. Cities can plan to create new pedestrian streets, new biking routes, electric vehicle chargers or parking spaces based on the air quality levels. Thus, both the combined data from sensors and mobile phones is critical.

In other words, the councils instead of taking decisions based on historic data or opinions, now coupled with expert perspectives they have all the tools to optimise their decisions based on real-time data or even to automate processes based on specific incidents. In addition, now the cities are capable to customise their actions on neighbourhood level and take different measures for each neighbourhood, instead of acting in the same way for big areas of the city or even for the whole city. Each neighbourhood may have different problems and may require different action plans.