The NordicPATH project aims to find new ways to include citizens in planning their cities for better air, more inclusive urban areas and a better climate.
”By using technology instead of physical meetings, we hope to bring more people into the planning processes – hopefully also those who otherwise does not engage”, says NILU scientist Núria Castell. ”It’s not easy showing up for a hearing on local area planning at 7PM when you are a single parent, but you are able to state your opinion through commenting on a web-based map.”
Make it easy to take part
NordicPATH’s overall objective is to establish a new model for citizens’ participation and collaborative planning in the Nordic countries. The main focus is on urban air quality and the interlinked challenge of climate change.
Scientists from Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Norway are going to investigate how technology can be used to facilitate collaborative processes which are open and easy to take part in. What comes out of these processes are meant to be used by scientists, city planners and municipalities to create more liveable, healthy and sustainable cities for everyone.
The main research question is therefore whether bottom-up processes can be concretely combined with urban planning practices and policy processes in relation to important environmental issues.
”We want to use technology to make it easier for the citizens to ”co-create” their cities”, says Castell. ”They live there, they know what works and what does not. They also have ideas and thoughts on how to make their local environment better – so we need to find ways for them to share that.”
Small sensors, big results
Environmental monitoring is the focus point for the co-design of measures to increase liveability and qualitative lifestyle in cities. NordicPATH also aims to deal with diverse targets and levels of air pollution and mitigate climate change through collaborative governance.
As of today, reference monitoring stations are few and far between in the Nordic countries, mainly due to cost. This leaves entire neighbourhoods without air quality information. Low-cost sensor systems that can monitor air pollutants can abate this, enabling real-time observations at high spatial resolution.
”As a measure to engage citizens in monitoring the local air quality, we will distribute small and simple sensors that measure particulate matter and NO2”, says Castell. ”We know that that the data generated by these sensors are often of questionable quality. However, by distributing a lot of sensors and having in place routines for quality control of the data, they will give both the citizens and us enough information to pinpoint areas where air quality is a problem.”
Such large-scale distribution will help advance the current knowledge on sensor technology and develop optimal methods to support the application of citizen-operated low-cost sensor networks. In order to take full advantage of the potential of this monitoring technology, the scientists plan to use statistics to combine sensor data with other relevant air quality data. By using machine learning and big data analysis, they can merge the data collected by citizens with official data operated by the authorities and the research community. This will in turn improve the current understanding of local air quality and help address environmental problems sooner and more efficiently than the current monitoring and modelling techniques.
Anonymity, equality, diversity
”We also plan to use so-called PPGIS (public participation Geographical Information Systems) such as Finnish Mapita OY’s interactive solution Maptionnaire”, says Castell. ”When using PPGIS, citizens can share anonymous feedback and suggestions for a public space directly into a map structure.”
Being able to respond anonymously may increase equality, diversity and reliability. The respondents cannot see each other’s input, and can thus freely share their opinions.
”After such a campaign, the municipality can gather all the feedback”, says Castell. ”A key aspect of NordicPATH project is exactly this; to transform data into tangible information that can be incorporated into the work of urban and environmental planners.”