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Captographies: Using citizen science to measure urban air quality

Captographies: Using citizen science to measure urban air quality


Published on 18 May 2023

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An innovative project between the University of Lausanne and the City of Lausanne's Directorate of Housing, Environment and Architecture is enabling residents to install sophisticated air monitoring equipment onto their balconies and windowsills. The project will establish a network of sensors across the city that, over time, will feed into an open-access data visualisation system. It enables residents to participate in monitoring air quality across the city and helps them to better understand how implementing different policies can reduce levels of  pollution.

The Captographies project, financed under the Interact 2023 call for projects, is a collaboration between the University of Lausanne and the Directorate of Housing, Environment and Architecture of the City of Lausanne. It studies the quality of air in the city and its impact on health. In order to raise citizens’ awareness of the impact of air pollution, the project leaders are implementing a participatory approach. Discover the Captographies’ programme!

Air pollution is estimated to be the third most common cause of preventable death in Europe after alcohol and tobacco. In Switzerland, it causes an average loss of one and a half years of life expectancy (Lelieveld and al., 2019). The Captographies project measures the pollution levels of certain districts of Lausanne, via a network of low-cost fine particle sensors assembled, installed, and supported by the population.

Within the framework of the Interact call for projects, the Captographies project will be deployed at the Lausanne level and will serve as a laboratory for future deployment at the cantonal level. The implementation of the project is divided into several stages:

  • The creation of a network of sensors by the population, whose measurements can be shared with everyone.
  • The setting up of a database to collect and manage the measurements collected.
  • The development of a participatory approach illustrated by the co-construction and co-management of the sensors; by the co-design of an open-access data visualisation system and by consultations aimed at determining citizens’ knowledge of air quality and their interests and needs related to the theme.

The citizens get the sensor assembly kit at a first workshop organised by the project leaders. At this meeting, participants co-build and co-configure the sensors, before installing them on their balconies or windowsills.

The image on the right shows the fully assembled sensor (©Captographies project).

By measuring the fine particles present in Lausanne’s neighbourhoods, the project leaders intend to provide an overview of the city’s overall pollution and thus raise awareness of its direct impact on health (weakening of the respiratory tract and cardiovascular system). The establishment of a more precise cartography of air quality will also make it possible to improve Lausanne’s public policies linked to the Climate Plan, the vegetation strategy and urban planning.

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