People’s power to improve cities

29 July 2021

Cyclists become data miners: the Province of Utrecht has distributed 500 sensors to its residents that they could attach to their bikes to collect data on air quality, humidity, temperature, and road surface. The information collected from the ‘Snuffelfiets’, ‘Sniffer Bikes’, will allow the city to anticipate road interventions and identify heat islands, thus informing future urban planning needs.

In Helsinki, over 150 residents have helped measure local air pollution by carrying portable sensors during their daily routes in the city. The name of the project: ‘Healthy Outdoor Premises for Everyone’ (HOPE).

And in Amsterdam, the ‘Hollandse Luchten’ initiative, ‘Dutch Skies’, has been launched to measure air quality in the northern Holland region. Citizens can order an open-source sensor kit that measures different particles to evaluate outdoor air quality.

Citizen science initiatives for a better living

Citizen science initiatives like this have increased in European cities last year, as the European Environment Agency and the European Commission noted. Involving people in collecting data has become very useful to cities as it can be the start of a conversation towards more sustainable, smart and inclusive urban policies and action plans. Cities often lack the resources to create and maintain holistic databases – that’s where citizens come in.

Many cities introducing these initiatives are facing common challenges like different calibration of sensors or incompatible data processing. However, there is an opportunity in sharing common challenges and solutions. Cities in the Netherlands have recognised the potential for collaboration, bringing together over 40 partner organisations, including different Dutch local administrations, businesses, experts, and citizens organisations, to sign the Dutch City Deal.

CitiMeasure: new European project

The Dutch model is unique as it created an ecosystem of partners around citizen measurement, and it has inspired a new European project: ‘CitiMeasure’. Building on the efforts of the Dutch City Deal, CitiMeasure will develop and test tools to address common challenges of citizen science initiatives. The project will compile an analysis of current European trends and will build knowledge to share with a European methodology.

The steps already taken by the Dutch City Deal and the CitiMeasure project are essential for European cities to reach the goals of the European Green Deal. They will contribute to achieving climate neutrality as set by the Paris Agreement. They will also contribute to the purpose of the digital transformation and respond to one of the UN Sustainable Development Goal, ‘Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable’, by involving residents to be active participants in their cities’ transformation.

‘Knowledge is power’, a sentence commonly attributed to Sir Francis Bacon, could be updated today with ‘Data is power’. And cities are inviting their people to get involved in monitoring their environment, to create a better living for all.

You can find out more about the project CitiMeasure here

Photo © RTV Utrecht


Wilma Dragonetti Eurocities Writer