Influencing city decision making for a future with clean air

Over the past four years the ClairCity project has been gathering public opinion on the policies they would like to see implemented to improve the quality of the air we breathe. Over 800,000 citizens were engaged in some way, with over 9,000 direct engagements. The project developed mobile games and apps, hosted workshops and webinars, attended public events, ran school lessons and reached out to marginalised communities to involve a representative group as possible in city decision making across six European cities and regions (Amsterdam, The Aveiro Region, Bristol, The Liguria Region, Ljubljana and Sosnowiec).

After citizens preferences were gathered, they were sense checked with policy makers and then modelled to determine whether their ideas could lower carbon emissions and air pollutants faster than business as usual – and overall they did! While citizens often agree with most of the policies already on the table, they ask for greater speed and implementation to reach net zero carbon emissions and pollution levels that meet WHO guidelines.

For their ambitions to be realised, the loop has to be closed between what citizens want and decision making, from local and regional and beyond. Given the set up of the ClairCity project, it was uniquely placed to facilitate this feedback mechanism. Comprised of universities and SMEs, the project already had established connections with local government and lobbying organisations. Thus, following the production of policy reports for each case study, each local/regional team presented the results to these actors.

In Bristol, the team presented their report to the Bristol Climate Change Advisory Committee, appointed by the current government to inform their work in this area, and sent the report to 80 local Councillors and MPs.

In the Aveiro Region, their report was translated into Portuguese and emailed to the Intermunicipal Community of Aveiro region (CIRA) and government representatives. Given the restrictions placed by Lockdown, it was not possible to present in person by the time the report was available.

Similarly, Sosnowiec had their report translated into the local language of Polish and forwarded it to over 30 governmental departments, government representatives and lobbying groups. The Mayor of Sosnowiec then decided to discuss the policy package during the joint meeting of the Mayor and all his deputies. The Chairman of the City Council obliged all members of the Sosnowiec City Council to familiarise themselves with the contents of the Package and in August, the document was discussed in detail by 2 committees of the City Council:

  1. the Committee for City Development and Environmental Protection
  2. the Committee on Municipal Economy and Communication

The Chairman has invited members of the ClairCity working team in Sosnowiec to participate in the meetings.

While we may not know exactly what role ClairCity played in influencing local and regional decision making it is clear that the project team have laid seeds in the minds of various influential actors, who are interested to take a closer look at the results and what they mean.

All of the case studies had to rethink their dissemination activities in light of COVID 19 and understandably this has become a priority for decision makers. However, in spite of this, these issues still want to be discussed. Perhaps it is even because of the growing evidence linking air pollution, health impacts and viral risks that these conversations are gaining traction. Either way, for these six cities and regions, there exists policy packages for each of them that can make inroads in addressing multiple interrelated development issues, which are not only ambitious but have the backing of citizens. We hope these packages will continue to be shared and we welcome interest from other cities and regions looking to carry out similar co-creation processes for cleaner air, healthier citizens and equitable outcomes.

Watch our policy webinar to learn more about the policy packages and our co-creation process, and read the policy briefs here.

Citizens at the Centre

Citizens engaging policy-makers on air quality and climate change

How do we get to the scenario in the top-right hand corner of the above image? A scenario where a given city is both ambitious about its clean air and climate change policies and its citizens are involved in the decision-making process? That is the question sustainability scientists have been grappling with for a number of years, and that the ClairCity project sought to explore. Drawing on the latest social and political science and pollution modelling, the research team set to work in understanding the context of their partner cities and regions, engaging citizens through various creative means to gather their preferences, and presenting the outcomes to key city decision makers to influence decision making*.

Around 820,000 citizens were involved in some way or another, with approximately 8,500 directly engaged. The project spoke with people on the streets, at festivals, on webinars, and through various formal and distributed dialogues across each city or region to increase representivity. There was a mobile game, videos of people’s lived experiences, and various schools’ lessons and activities, all designed to spread the ClairCity message and capture the voice of citizens. The project was the largest of its kind and perhaps one of the most creative.

And what did it find out? An overwhelming willingness by citizens to change, and a real appetite for greater policy ambition and speed of implementation. For instance, citizens that drive today, largely want to drive less in the future and choose more sustainable alternatives for their commuting, shopping and leisure trips – across all cities and regions. Many want to choose renewable fuels in the future also, although cost is a big barrier for some cities across Europe. In some cities a lack of awareness on certain sources of air pollutants, in particular wood burners, may be a limiting factor to citizens’ ambition – or alternatively, citizens may not feel able to challenge authorities to do something about these issues and therefore choose not to raise them**. All in all, the willingness was there, but more often than not barriers existed to prevent change from happening sooner.

When local citizens’ top policies were presented to policy makers in their city or region many agreed with their level of ambition, although in some instances they were slowed down, largely as a result of cost. As always with politics, a lot of negotiation and compromise is involved, often bound tightly by purse strings. However, as has been shown in Amsterdam, sometimes you can get a situation where the local government is so ambitious that its citizens are rushing to keep up.

As ClairCity comes to a close in 2020, Covid19 has proven to be a window of opportunity in which to accelerate air quality improvements across Europe. While an awful tragedy, the pandemic opened up fertile ground to push for more ambitious walking and cycling policies. Although the intention was to make places safer for public health (and indeed air pollution worsens coronavirus), the result is still the same – fewer cars on the road and more people on the streets. In The Netherlands they initiated Holiday Streets, in London, England the Mayor committed himself to making central London one of the largest car free spaces seen anywhere in the world, and in Milan, Italy they announced plans to turn 35km of streets to make more space for cyclists and pedestrians. And to ensure the environmental message wasn’t lost, Extinction Rebellion activists took cycle lanes into their own hands in several cities across the UK.

Ultimately, we all have a part to play in acting on these issues. Beyond individual change and technofixes, real momentum can be built through joining together as communities to amplify the message and show the will of citizens, and if done in dialogue with people in positions of power, there is a chance policy may begin to change.

As a result of the ClairCity project, we’ve produced a whole host of resources to support such groups! We have an Educator Pack full of lesson plans and activities, including postcards to send to people of influence and Clean Air Top Trump cards – print them out and use in your next schools outreach day. There’s also our Community Activator Pack, for activists old and new, wishing to reach more marginalised voices and champion their voices in decision-making. Every person’s actions makes a difference, but by joining together we can have a unified voice of the many to bring about change.

Join us this Thursday for our final webinar, which will see organisations from across Bristol sharing their experiences of engaging diverse audiences around these issues and championing their voice to influence decision making.

*Find out more about the process here: www.claircity.eu/our-story

*Find out about the priorities of citizen’s in each of our cities and regions here: www.claircity.eu/reports

ClairCity Skylines

It’s time to save your skyline!

ClairCity Skylines is a unique policy-making strategy game where you are the mayor, you make the rules, and only you have the power to unlock a successful clean-air future for your city.

Visit areas representing environment, economy, health, and satisfaction. Collect ideas for city policies that you think sound good, then visit city hall to turn them into law.

Policies you create will have consequences for your city and citizens, and you must unlock a clean-air future in less than fifty years. but be careful! If your city goes bankrupt, gets too polluted or if your citizens get too unwell or unhappy with their lot in life it’ll be game over!

The app is available for download for each of our five partner cities: Amsterdam, Aveiro, Bristol, Ljubljana and Sosnowiec.

By playing this game, your anonymous policy making decisions will contribute to the ClairCity.eu research project for air pollution and policymaking.  Download the app for Android or Apple now!

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