Climate change affects cities more than the countryside. Large paved surfaces reinforce heat waves and increase the risk of flooding. The air quality in Flanders also remains a challenge. VITO aims with various projects to contribute to healthier air and more climaterobust cities.

Help Measure Mechelen”: involving citizens in environmental research

A good environmental policy stands or falls by the reliability of its data. In Mechelen, VITO and the city government are calling upon volunteers to map air quality. “Help Measure Mechelen” is part of the European research project Ground Truth 2.0. Six countries are collaborating on a case in which researchers work together with citizens and policymakers on various environmental issues. In Flanders, Mechelen is a pilot city. The chosen themes are air quality and noise.

Volunteers measure air quality

“The goal of Help Measure Mechelen is to help citizens and governments together discover how they can improve their living environment. VITO supports them in this,” says researcher Stijn Vranckx. “The first step is collecting data. In October 2017 and March 2018, Mechelen conducted air quality measurements, for which VITO provided four air quality sensors. Every morning and evening, four individuals cycled along an agreed route  to measure air quality. The campaign will be repeated this summer. This series of measurements allows us to determine how air quality varies in the city. VITO processes the raw data into practical information. Measuring campaigns for noise have also been ongoing since May 2018.”

Formulating policy together

The partners are now examining how they can use the information collected. Stijn Vranckx: “The initial results were presented at a discussion evening in Mechelen. People were able to ask questions of the VITO experts, the bicycle volunteers and the city official responsible for the environment. Together we examine the direction we wish to proceed. The city of course sets certain environmental goals. Via this project, residents and citizens’ groups can contribute to shaping policy. The combination of researchers, policymakers and citizens leads to constructive discussions.”

For other cities too

The procedure for the study was  established in the airQmap platform, which VITO is also providing to other cities. This platform allows for reliable air quality measurements at a limited cost price. Mechelen is certainly satisfied, says city official responsible for the environment Marina De Bie. “The city of Mechelen attaches great importance to good air quality. We are building new parks, restricting access to cars in the inner city, focusing on bicycles and car sharing … In order to test the impact of our policy, we need air quality data. Via Help Measure Mechelen, we are able to involve residents in this policy. The more we cycle and measure, the more useful and reliable our data become.”

Help Measure Mechelen and Climate-Fit. City are part of Ground Truth 2.0 (Grant Agreement No. 689744) and PUCS (Grant Agreement No. 73004), projects financed by the European research and innovation programme Horizon 2020.