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Social Innovation

Breathe easy: 4 ways European cities are battling smoggy streets

Poor outdoor air quality can have a major impact on health. Discover what steps European cities are taking to tackle the problem of pollution.

Pollution is often dismissed as a ‘green’ issue – but poor air quality can have a serious impact on our health.

Looking around European cities, politicians are finally taking notice.

Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, has recently issued air quality alerts across the capital and is making this a big focus of his policy plans for the city.  Meanwhile, across the Channel, the smog in Paris is said to be the worst in 10 years, leading its Mayor to take drastic steps to tackle the issue.   

Half the World‘s population live in nations with dangerously poor air quality. Air pollution continues to have a significant impact on health, particularly in urban areas, causing problems from nose and throat irritation to serious cardiovascular and lung diseases, including lung cancer. The European Environment Agency estimates that, although the quality of air in Europe is slowly improving, almost 9 out of 10 European city dwellers breathe air that is harmful to their health.

This poses a huge challenge for cities, and it’s made harder by ever-increasing urbanisation and industrialisation. The EU is currently offering a €3 million prize for someone who comes up with an innovative idea to reduce particulate matter (the pollutant with the worst impact on health), and some European cities are already getting involved. Here we take a look at some of the ideas they have come up with…

1) Paris – At the beginning of December 2016, Paris made public transport (metro and bike hire) free in an effort to tackle pollution. Additionally, during particularly polluted periods, the city takes drastic action, banning cars with odd and even number plates on alternate days.

2) Netherlands – In April 2016, Dutch politicians voted through a motion which, if implemented, will ban sales of new petrol and diesel cars starting in 2025. This would mean all new cars would have to be hydrogen or electric.

3) Zurich Zurich has capped the number of parking spaces and then re-purposed the spaces for other needs such as wider sidewalks, tramways and bikeways.

4) Birmingham – In Birmingham, and four other UK cities, the British government is considering allowing electric vehicles to use the bus lane, and even to be given priority at traffic lights.

European cities can also learn from further afield. Delhi, for example, uses buses running on compressed natural gas, which is a much cleaner alternative to petrol or diesel. Delhi also plans to use jet engines to help clean up the air - the jet engines will act as a chimney to transport the smog to higher altitudes and trap it there.

The hope is that policies such as these will soon allow city dwellers in Europe and beyond to breathe easy when walking their streets.