The UIA HOPE project explored how urban residents can participate in air quality measurement and how companies can make innovative use of air quality data. Residents measured local air quality in Vallila, Jätkäsaari and Pakila.
The road dust season has started and air quality is poor in places. Even in Helsinki, limit values are exceeded every year. Traffic is the largest source of emissions.
In Helsinki, 157 volunteers measured air quality in their residential environment using portable sensors in Jätkäsaari, Pakila and Vallila. The automated sensors used by the residents carried out more than a million air quality measurements during the research period. The measurements were used to determine whether the residents could be involved in air quality measurements and how reliable the results can be obtained by means of crowdsourcing. The measurements also increased understanding of air quality among the residents. Through the participatory budgeting method, residents were able to vote on measures to improve air quality at the urban level. Furthermore, on the basis of the measurements, residents were able to change their daily routines so that they used routes with cleaner air.
Resident measurements were carried out in the UIA HOPE (Urban Innovative Action – Healthy Outdoor Premises for Everyone) project in 2019–2021. The project explored accurate air quality data and its utilisation at the district and resident level. The project was carried out by the City of Helsinki, the City’s innovation company Forum Virium Helsinki, the University of Helsinki, Vaisala Oyj, the Helsinki Region Environmental Services Authority, the Finnish Meteorological Institute and Useless Company Oy. The project was funded by the Urban Innovative Actions initiative of the European Union.
Measures impact positively on local air quality
During the measurement campaign, the residents received their own air quality sensor developed by the Megasense programme of the University of Helsinki, which they used with an application downloaded to a smartphone. The mobile application enabled the residents to look at their own measurement results and change their own routines in order to be less exposed to air pollutants.
In addition, the residents affected the air quality in their area of residence in Jätkäsaari, Vallila and Pakila by voting for the most sensible measures to be taken in the project. The voting took place in the ‘Oma ilmanlaatu’ (My Air Quality) application, where the residents were also able to assess their impact on local air quality.
The measures to be voted on were actions selected by experts to improve air quality. The measures implemented in 2021 included enhanced street washing and dust suppression in Jätkäsaari, identification and listening systems for studded tyres in Vallila and Pakila, and shared use electric cargo cycles in Jätkäsaari.
Surveyors satisfied with air quality in the city
The project also explored how residents experience air quality in their area and how accessible and comprehensible air quality data are. A total of 196 replies were received. The average respondent felt that air quality in Helsinki was fairly good. The surveys were repeated in 2019–2021. No major changes between residential areas and between years in how people experience air quality in their area were discovered.
“Residents have never before been included in air quality measurement to this degree. I believe that this has enabled us to share a lot of useful information on air quality and its effects with the residents,” Project Manager Ville Nousiainen from Forum Virium Helsinki says.
In addition to engaging residents and businesses, the project complemented the Helsinki air quality measurement network in the Jätkäsaari, Vallila and Pakila areas in cooperation with sensor manufacturer Vaisala. This enabled us to create a more accurate picture of the local air quality and to utilise, among other things, the Enfuser and Enfuser 2.0 air quality models developed by the Finnish Meteorological Institute, which produces air quality information in urban areas with high separation capacity.
According to the Ministry of the Environment, air pollutants cause as many as 2,000 premature deaths in Finland every year. The restrictions imposed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic temporarily improved air quality in 2020. In particular, the restrictions contributed to a reduction in traffic emissions.
Residents continue to participate in urban experiments
Engaging the residents in the air quality measurements was so successful that Forum Virium Helsinki will continue to participate in innovative urban experiments in the ‘Kokeilujoukot’ group. The group includes 600 active urban residents who test new urban services in everyday life in cooperation with companies, research institutes and the City.