Testing Urban Planning Initiatives Using Air Quality Data

How Urban Planning Contributes to Poor Air Quality


In 2020, the world population reached 7.8 billion. The ever-growing population is met with threats of increased vehicle usage, heightened emissions and poorer air quality and over time, urban infrastructure slowly stops supporting how we live and travel, contributing to air pollution related problems and around 4.2 million annual deaths.

Cars are the most popular form of transport, and most urban designs support this with motor vehicle-focused

infrastructure like roads through pedestrian-heavy areas, A-roads and motorways. However, it’s important to consider that areas experiencing poor air quality are generally designed in ways that don’t cater for evolving lifestyles. It is common to see heavy congestion at roundabouts during peak times, meaning more idling vehicles. Traffic light sequencing can worsen traffic flow, emissions and cyclists pollution exposure through more accelerations, start-stop behaviours both increasing the amount of pollutants inhaled by nearby cyclists and cycle lanes seem daunting to travel along in busy city centres, putting people off travelling by bicycle.


These are just few of many examples of how outdated infrastructure contributes to the problem. Although detrimental to how we all travel, these are one of the many reasons contributing to why only 1 in 10 cities worldwide meet clean air standards and why the majority of the EU’s urban population are exposed to dangerous levels of ozone (O3), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and PM2.5. This shows the importance of implementing modern urban plans and infrastructure to enhance sustainability, lower emissions and improve air quality.


New Air Quality Technologies & Urban Planning


A huge rise in technological advancements in the 21st century benefit those constructing modern infrastructure, as intelligent systems can help to pave decisions towards ‘greener’ urban planning that improves air quality, sustainability, and makes the most of available land.


Using urban planning to implement sustainable infrastructure is necessary to ensure a better quality of life to people around the world. Sustainable urban planning approaches address important questions around how to encourage people to travel using cleaner methods or how to make the most of land available to promote sustainable decisions. For example, the Institute for Advanced Sustainable Studies (IASS) contributed to the development of urban planning and climate models supported by Zephyr® data to aid the introduction of eco-friendly infrastructure in Berlin.


A widely recognised example of sustainable urban planning is Singapore’s super trees, that generate solar power, act as air vents for nearby conservatories and shield individuals from hot temperatures. As seen in Singapore, the move towards environmentally friendly infrastructure is slowly but surely happening as air quality related policies are introduced by national authorities, but the efficacy of these policies must be understood to guarantee clean air.


Using Air Quality Sensors to Test Urban Planning Policies


sensor on lighting pole
Zephyr® sensor attached to lighting infrastructure in Berlin, Germany

An example of scientists who use air quality data to test urban planning isThe Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS), a research institute in Germany who work to identify, understand, and act upon problems with the implementation of sustainable development in society. Their research team, led by Dr. Erika von Schneidemesser currently use 8 Zephyr® air quality sensors as tools to outline the effectiveness of government policies and more recently have purchased 4 additional sensors to allow them to react to future interventions.