Brussels SmarterLab is the Brussels case study of the JPI Urban Europe SmarterLabs project, which aims to test a living labs methodology in four European cities. In Brussels, in particular, the SmarterLab is focused on air quality and the co-production of knowledge.
Air is an imperative condition of human existence. Every day we breathe a quantity of air much greater than the quantity of food and drinks which we consume. And yet, with the notable exception of the restoration of ecosystem services, virtually no governmental operation exists to physically supply clean and breathable air to urban settlements. As opposed to other urban metabolic flows, clean air does not need distribution infrastructures, such as pipelines and aqueducts, electric grids, road and rail networks: a key component of air management, conversely, are the systems of sensors, models and maps that measure the presence in the air of specific contaminants. The information that these systems produce, together with considerations on the level of concentration that is socially and biologically acceptable, is then used to influence the governance of other sectors and possibly prevent excessive pollution. The governance of and the knowledge on air are two sides of the same coin.
What we know about air pollution today, how we know it, and the ways in which the atmosphere is governed, however, are not inevitable parts of closed systems, but are legitimate objects of political contestation and potential transformation (e.g. see Whitehead 2009). In this context, the Brussels SmarterLab aims to test a collaborative approach to the governance of air, where citizens and researchers jointly generate knowledge on the geography of air pollution in Brussels, and co-produce innovative solutions. At the most practical level, the participants in the project will produce a cartography of air quality in Brussels and of their vulnerability to pollution, by carrying portable user-friendly sensing devices. In addition, measurements and maps will be used to develop a learning process that empowers citizens (in particular those usually excluded from the realms of policy and scientific knowledge), and to conduct a series of initiatives to raise awareness, drive behavioural change, and stimulate collective action for a healthier and more sustainable urban ecology.
The project is carried out by BRAL- Citizens Action Brussels - and Cosmopolis, in collaboration with different citizen groups, including the Chouchou Groep, Bruxsel'air and a group of volunteers from the European Union Cyclists' Group (EUCG).
For more information, see: http://bral.brussels/en/themes/better-air-quality.