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la cITYSENSE 

promoting Citizen engagement in the collection of air quality data for improvement of public health

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ABOUT

LA CitySense proposes to couple air quality sensing kits to bikes, enabling the citizens, to map as they ride recording the pollutant concentration in different areas of the city. The goal is to engage the citizens in the process of reading and documenting air pollution data which would not only increase sensitivity towards the built environment but could trigger formulation of locally informed urban policies.

 

COLLABORATORS

University of Southern California, Mobile and Environmental Media Lab in the School of Cinematic Arts

Visiting researcher from Princeton University, Civil and Environmental Engineering Department

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DETAILS

 

Urban air quality is one of the most alarming problems of contemporary cities. The World Health Organization reported that “in 2012, around 7 million people died – one in eight of the total global deaths – as a result of air pollution. This finding confirms that air pollution is now the world’s largest single environmental health risk” (WHO 2014). It is well known that air quality is primarily an urban problem. Therefore, strategies to improve air quality in cities would introduce tremendous health and comfort benefits for their citizens.

Given the high reliance on the private vehicle, LA is one of the most polluted urban enclaves in the US. In this context, and with our increasing awareness of the negative effect air pollution can play in human health, initiatives that contribute to the improvement of air quality in the city of LA are paramount.

With the ambition to increase social and improve the air quality of the city of LA, the proposal has two main focuses:

a)            Urban sensing through the involvement of LA citizens in the sensing process of the air quality data of the city:

The current data available from governmental weather stations is insufficient to understand the air quality conditions we are exposed to in our daily routines. A higher spatial resolution mapping of the environmental data is necessary to rationalize the air quality variability across the city and be able to understand the air quality we are subject to as well as the possible implications it may have in our health. The advantage of crowd sourced air quality data acquisition resides precisely in its capacity to increase the spatial resolution through an affordable technical approach. Furthermore, it also takes advantage of the LA Bike municipality project which seeks to promote the use of bicycles to reduce the vehicular emissions to the atmosphere. The sensing kits will be attached to the LA bikes to perform crowd-sourced mobile sensing. Through this approach, the spatial resolution of the recordings will be further increased, enabling the acquisition of a city wide air quality data.

b)            Data sharing for urban action and the establishment of urban policies:

The data collected by all active bikers, will be shared with LA citizens to spread the air quality awareness through a city wide open platform. The management of the sensing kits as well as the rationalization of the results will be shared through citizen workshops and through discussion forums in public databases. Therefore, the collected data will not only serve for scientific research but will also motivate city wide public awareness platforms to discuss the air quality conditions of the city. Mobile applications and web-based interfaces are also being developed to enable a real time visualization of the collected data. The goal is to engage the citizens in the process of reading and documenting air pollution data and increase sensitivity towards the built environment.

We have developed a pilot project within the USC campus. This study was developed with the collaboration of a group of students who tested bike mounted sensing kits for air quality measuring within the physical boundaries of the USC campus. Through this study, the sensing kit has been tested and the data has been validated. Therefore, one of the main points of success for the presented project would be to scale the pilot project developed at USC campus to a city wide initiative by installing sensing kits in LA bikes. On the other hand, the involvement of LA citizens in the sensing as well as in the data interpretation process is a critical aspect to guarantee a successful development of the project. Citizen participation through citizen science initiatives can motivate urban policy level transformations which are determinant for the reduction of health hazards such as air pollution. Therefore, the public participation on the devised digital and workshop based LA CitySense engagement platforms will be a crucial measure of success of the proposed initiative.