In 2009, Mapping for Change supported communities across London to measure and map local air quality. Use of a ‘citizen science’ approach meant local residents in seven locations were able to collect data, then see the real results of their monitoring activities, and subsequently embark on a campaign to see the serious results addressed.
The citizen science approach offered by Mapping for Change provided communities with a way to measure air quality using low-technical methods, which meant all sectors of the community felt able to participate. Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) was selected as the focus primarily because of the affordability of the monitoring equipment. In each location, a series of diffusion tubes were set out across the area to measure NO2 levels. Putney, with a total of thirty-eight sites, had the most monitoring locations. After a period of between three-to-four weeks the diffusion tubes were collected and analysed, and MfC mapped the results in each location.
Data from Putney and Highbury indicated that levels along the main road networks were up to 75% above EU limits for the period. They also highlighted several residential back-roads used as ‘rat runs’. The remaining five monitoring locations across London each comprised of one of London’s Greenways (safe, quiet routes through parks, green spaces and lightly trafficked streets) with an adjacent busy road. The results showed significantly higher NO2 levels on the roads compared with the Greenways, despite their close proximity.
Results were fed back to the communities in well-attended meetings. The first was held in Highbury and was attended by over forty local residents, the Green Party London Mayoral candidate, the Local Authority and Clean Air London Director, Simon Birkett. GLA member Jenny Jones described the results as “terrifying”, but claimed the turnout had brought her hope as it demonstrated the issue was important for local people. A Public Protection Officer from the Local Authority who attended the meeting expressed her support for the study and highlighted the difficulties they have had in engaging the public in this discourse. She welcomed any move to raise awareness at the local level.
They came up with a list of measures which they and others in the community could adopt to reduce exposure to, and production of, harmful emissions. They also listed a number of suggestions to be put forward to the Mayor and Local Authority.
In Putney, these results motivated TfL’s decision to use hybrid buses on the high street.
You can view the results of these citizen science activities on our online interactive Community Mapping platform. We have also developed a toolkit that will enable communities across the UK to engage in air quality monitoring activities.
MyAccessible.EU is a three year research project funded by the European Commission. It aims to make cities’ built environment more accessible for disabled and older people by challenging social attitudes, raising awareness and delivering assistive mobile applications. These mobile applications will provide tools for collectively gathering and sharing information about accessibility of public spaces.
In early 2015, Southwark Council commissioned Mapping for Change to build an online Community Map to aid and support the work of the Council, in its pledge to build 11,000 new homes over the next thirty years.
Science in the City is a project that is being carried out with residents in the Barbican and Mansell Street, in the City of London. Residents are using low-tech tools to measure Nitrogen Dioxide and particulates.