Air pollution is one of the biggest challenges facing London. On Tuesday 4 September, FoL’s Alumni Network event kicked off with provocations from speakers combating poor air quality at international, regional, borough and local levels: who is taking the hit from our dirty air, and what can be done about it?
Morten Thaysen, Clean Air Campaigner at Greenpeace, outlined the scale of the challenge and suggested that a move away from combustion engines, combined with investment in alternatives, is required to address the issue in earnest. Working internationally on a range of environmental issues, Greenpeace mobilises large numbers of individuals to take on large companies, challenging their corporate image to galvanise change. To combat the ‘invisible’ nature of the threat from air pollution, local campaigns bring local stories to life, making the consequences of pollution visible to the public.
Broadly, there are three approaches to improving air quality: developing and utilising cleaner technology, reducing emissions and reducing exposure. Simon Roberts, Principal Policy Advisor at TfL, cautioned against just waiting for cleaner technology: achieving an overall reduction in emissions is paramount. TfL’s Ultra-Low Emission Zone, now expanded and brought forward to April 2019, is designed to discourage vehicle use across a large area of London, fostering regional improvement.
With capital from the Mayor of London’s Mini-Hollands fund, LB Waltham Forest has is upgrading its road network, tackling key issues tied to road safety, air quality and public health. Mark Bland, Mini Holland Programme Manager, stressed the importance of offering Londoners “credible alternatives” to other forms of transport. By implementing education and public engagement strategies alongside infrastructure, the borough has answered that vital question for residents: “what’s in it for me?”. More people are choosing to cycle as a result, increasing cycling’s mode share.
RURBAN takes a people-focused approach to promoting urban resilience: people are engaged in all phases of their projects, using “citizen science” as a bridge to behaviour change and prioritising projects with a DIY approach that can be transferred to the home. Hester Buck, Architect at Public Works, said air quality is a priority at RURBAN’s Poplar project, located next to the busy A12. Various filtration options for improving air quality on a hyper-local basis were tested, leading to the creation of a moss wall which captures particulates more effectively than other leaf-types.
A lively debate followed the talks, with a recurring question arising: What are we waiting for?
To address a problem as complex and extensive as poor air quality, no one can afford to wait, and messaging is critical. Interventions that combine infrastructure with education help everyone understand the importance of the issue, and the small changes they can make to address it.