Co-producing healthy clean commuting air spots in town

Edited on 26/02/2024

Air quality

Project proposal by

  • Institution : Municipality of Ferrara
  • City : Ferrara
  • Country : Italy
  • Type of region : More developed
  • Population : 123 288

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The challenge of protecting the environment and improving air quality is crucial for the wellbeing of EU citizens. With AIR BREAK, the city of Ferrara (Italy) undertook an ambitious project to address this challenge. The project’s results were achieved thanks to the cooperation between administrators and the city’s inhabitants.


AIR BREAK tackled a range of air quality issues in Ferrara, such as commuting, lack of urban greenery and lack of detailed and updated information about air quality, with an evidence-based strategy and a citizen-centric approach, and by integrating a set of innovative and tailor-based solutions.


Through a holistic, bottom-up approach, involving citizens and stakeholders, AIR BREAK went beyond air quality data collection and monitoring to implement, for the first time in Ferrara, concrete actions aimed at transforming “dark-high-emission zones” into “green-augmented-healthy zones”. The main actions implemented were the development and activation of a monitoring system with low-cost sensors to register data on air quality in the city; the creation of new urban forests in highly-polluted areas; the installation of “smart hubs” for e-bikes and smart services; and the creation of a new smart bike lane. 


What SOLUTIONS did the Urban Innovative Action project offer?


AIR BREAK set an ambitious goal of reducing air-pollution by 25% in the most critical areas of the city. In doing so, the project tackled air-quality issues through a set of integrated actions in four core strategic areas: 


  1. Nature-Based Solutions (NBS), with the planting of phytoremediation species along the main access roads to the city, to mitigate air pollution. 

  1. Infrastructural upgrades, with the development of an innovative smart bike lane and multifunctional Smart Hubs, to promote and enhance sustainable mobility opportunities. 

  1. Technological equipment, with the deployment of mobile air-quality monitoring stations, as well as of innovative digital services and gamification applications, to incentivise environmentally-friendly behaviours. 

  1. Awareness-raising and citizens’ and stakeholders’ engagement, by involving the community in the monitoring of air quality, establishing pro-active participatory processes and the co-design of living labs.  


What DIFFERENCE has it made at local level?


The AIR BREAK impact at city level proved the citizens are sensitive to the theme of air quality. Over 400 people participated in each edition of Air Fest, testifying to this increasing interest. The emergence of evidence-based awareness on pollution was supported by the involvement of over 7 000 citizens in co-monitoring activities. Also, more than 6 500 people have been involved in mobility campaigns, including 70 companies and about 40 school classes, which covered over 1 million km in a sustainable way, while online project content achieved over 13 000 interactions. 


The dataset generated by the project, comprising newly collected data integrating with various sources in a coherent shape, supports the decision-making process and the design of other projects. 


In addition, 2 000 new trees with high pollutant-absorbing properties were planted in five selected areas around the city centre, absorbing over 40 kg/year of pollutants.

What PARTICIPATORY APPROACHES have been put in place for the project?


The AIR BREAK project dedicated a specific work package to citizens’ engagement for co-creation and behavioural change. Its main objectives were to: i) design a site-specific co-creation living lab for the setting up of the air quality urban centre AQUE, and the alliance with local stakeholders; ii) promote behavioural change toward sustainable lifestyle, especially in the realm of urban mobility, using, for example, reward mechanisms; and iii) validate AIR BREAK solutions through large-scale and long-running awareness campaigns. 


The co-creation path accompanied the design of the solutions through shared governance in decision-making, via two parallel streams: workshops with citizens to collect knowledge, habits, and co-create measures based on a basket of solutions, together with air quality data communication to all; and focus groups with homogeneous groups of stakeholders dedicated to Internet of Things (IoT), cycling, NBS, etc. The whole process was supported by the implementation of a dedicated platform for the sharing of the dataset, and awareness-raising activities, such as bike-to-work campaigns.

How does the project tackle different aspects with an INTEGRATED APPROACH?


The project’s key innovation was the integration of complementary solutions to build a harmonised model, intersecting three dimensions of sustainability:  


Environment: through improving air quality, resilience, biodiversity, knowledge of complex systems of situational factors. The introduction of specific NBS contributes to climate change mitigation, whose benefits combine with the effects of behavioural changes toward sustainable commuting and tackling pollution from various angles. 


Economy: the improvements of air quality might reduce air pollution-related illnesses, while strengthening local economies with regards to the agricultural sector. A specific attention to the wellbeing of citizens might also promote the residents of the city, especially home ownership in the areas in which air quality is proven to be better than the average. Finally, the dataset collected will support better implementation of ongoing and future interventions and planning, both in the public and private sectors, not to mention savings for citizens deriving from sustainable mobility choices. 


Society: engagement activities, such as living labs, the expansion of green areas for urban wellbeing, events and platforms for citizen and stakeholder engagement; awareness-raising campaigns, and increased access to and understanding of data orientates the AIR BREAK actions toward benefits in terms of social cohesion and collective responsibility for a shared environment.  

Why should other European cities use the solution the project explored?


Other cities in the Emilia Romagna region, and the EU more widely, could benefit from the AIR BREAK approach in a number of ways. 


- Introduce a new way to collect real-time data both for policymaking and public information, with low-cost solutions and a community-based responsibility system, also able to involve the productive sector for the development of local sustainable mobility solutions and technologies; 


- Widen and deepen the access and the understanding of data and datasets, also promoting digital knowledge and capability; 


- Establish new forms of environmental governance for complex challenges, fostering the participation of key actors (industry, academia, third sector) in an organised and flexible system - the Alliance; 


- Develop effective, multi-channel and multi-approach campaigns to raise awareness and trigger sustainable behaviours among city users; 


- Acquire know-how about the effectiveness and efficiency of planting actions, with regards to the management and the maintenance of new urban forests, and the performances of the trees in terms of air quality.