The municipality of Nijmegen in the Netherlands applies a planned approach to the challenges of measuring and controlling air quality in the city. Setting up a citizen-sensor network has allowed the local government to share data with the people
Air Pollution is now a common place term, which our ears are attuned to. Air quality can be impacted by climate change and, conversely, climate change can impact air quality. All human activities have an effect on the environment and it is the biggest threat to our current way of life.
With rapid climate changes, this is a much needed initiative which can be challenging to implement. For example, where do municipalities and businesses initiate the project? Data driven intelligence is the answer in this case. The city of Nijmegen has developed a unique citizen-sensor network to have a better understanding of CO2 emissions and other air quality indicators (NO2, CO, CO2, and O3). In 2014, the municipality began collaboration with Radboud University to measure air quality, while involving and communicating with the citizens.
From roads to air
The original reason to implement the Smart Emission project at Nijmegen was traffic bottlenecks. As the municipality prepared to accommodate the ever increasing vehicles on the roads that impact not only infrastructure but also the environment; they were tasked with ensuring air quality of the city would not deteriorate. Paul Geurts, Information Architect at the municipality — understood the need to measure air quality for several years; and for not just the roads project but to ensure air quality is measured in a smarter and cost effective manner. Thus, the Smart Emission project was commenced at the municipality of Nijmegen in the Netherlands.
Smart emission project
At its core, the ‘Smart Emission’ project maps air quality, noise levels, vibrations and meteorological indicators; and provides the government and citizens with access to real-time data. Visualizing air quality data enables researchers and residents to communicate intelligently and make data-driven informed decisions. Radboud University participated in this project to simulate collaboration between citizens and governments, with the aim of using inexpensive sensor network and citizen participation.
Collaborating with the university enabled scientific supervision of the project. For example, the project measures parameters that do not fit into usual economy-related considerations, but have an effect on the health of inhabitants of a city. In addition, the university preferred using open data to accentuate the cooperation and communication between citizens and the local government.
Europe is plagued by a large number of ‘bottom-up’ processes that do not fructify. Aware of these instances, the Municipality of Nijmegen chose to implement cost effective and reliable sensors and made the results usable through the measurements of the high level sensors used by the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM); and coupled with the output with easy-to-use advanced data visualizing technology.
Reliance of real-time and accurate data is pertinent for any project of this nature and scale. IMAGEM helped in visualizing the multi-source data on customized interactive dashboards. IMAGEM created a dashboard for this project – Smart Emission M.App — that provides statistics on air quality with location component or on a map. Multiple options are available for citizens to view real-time information on pollution and noise levels at any location within the city of Nijmegen. Tabs have been created for policy makers, managers and users who want to dive deeper into the location-based analytics. These tabs showcase trends and developments in air quality.
Based on Hexagon Smart M.App technology, the dashboard solutions or the Smart Emissions Map visualizes air quality in real-time, thereby allowing citizens and the local government to gain a better understanding of the environment.
The Smart Emissions project is running successfully in Nijmegen, supported by a dedicated team from the municipality and university, as well as citizens. The municipality intends to develop the Smart Emission M.App into a mature and production- ready solution that can be used peers by integrating with existing IT infrastructure and municipal processes. Believing that ‘smart citizens make cities smarter’, the municipality of Nijmegen plans to do further research that will help increase participation from the local community.
The efforts of this collaboration between the municipality, citizens, academic institutions and businesses have not gone unnoticed. In 2016, Nijmegen was awarded the Smartest City prize at the ‘De Slimste Binnenstad van Nederland’ contest that awards municipalities on implementing and using modern technologies in their day-to-day operations. Amongst considerations such as measuring the direct impact on quality of life, and reusability of the app by other municipalities, the jurors were impressed by the change in culture in the city of Nijmegen through cooperation from citizens.
On the technology front, the Smart Emissions M.App won second place at Hexagon Geospatial’s global contest — IGNITE. Worldwide, 20 apps (or Hexagon Smart M.Apps) were shortlisted under predefined categories such as finance, safety, infrastructure, health, food and conservation. Nijmegen’s Smart Emissions M.App combines and caters to three of these categories — infrastructure, health and conservation — making easy and efficient deliver data driven smart decisions.