The list you don't want to be on: cities with the dirtiest air

Fri, 2014-05-09 06:00 -- Jesse Berst

A study by the World Health Organization (WHO) to measure pollution levels in 1,600 cities around the world revealed some dreary news. WHO says pollution has gotten worse, not better, since its last survey and that poor countries are hit the hardest.

WHO said air pollution puts people at higher risk of cancer, heart disease and stroke and, according to a Reuters report, 7 million died from it in 2012.

The study found the worst air to be in New Delhi, India – and that 13 cities in India were on the list of top 20 cities with the dirtiest air.  

But a WHO official emphasize the study was not designed to shame cities that fared the poorest but to challenge them, noting that burning coal, smokestack industries and traffic congestion are typically what causes air pollution.

How smart technologies help curb pollution

One of the reasons WHO was able to determine how much worse air pollution has gotten is the increasing use of sensor technologies that allow researchers to gather and share air quality data in new ways. We told you recently about a Portland, Oregon neighborhood that's participating in a sensor pilot after being alerted to high levels air pollution near their elementary school.

We also told you recently about a Beecham Research report that determined smart parking apps can help reduce traffic congestion, driver frustration, fuel consumption and exhaust emissions. The report looked at a number of ongoing smart parking trials in major cities where road-mounted sensors gather parking data in busy shopping or tourist areas.

Cities are grappling with the influx of car-sharing companies, but they may want to consider a case study from Council Global Partner Microsoft that describes an electric car-sharing program established by the city of Paris and 46 surrounding municipalities. The goals were to relieve traffic congestion, reduce noise and air pollution, and provide people with more flexible transit options. According to the case study, the solution has reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 1.5 metric tons annually and replaced 25,000 privately owned gas vehicles.

Madrid is tackling its nitrogen dioxide problem by installing a smart parking meter system that bases what a motorist pays to park at a city smart meter on the engine type and model year of the car. Electric cars will park for free; hybrids will get a 20% reduced rate and the worst offenders – a diesel car made in 2001, for instance, -- will see a 20% mark-up,

Reducing traffic congestion means cities can reduce emissions from idling autos. That's what Bucheon City, South Korea did when it partnered with Council Global Partner IBM to deploy intelligent video analytics.  The solution collects and analyzes traffic volume data and measures average traffic speed to provide accurate, meaningful information to drivers in real time.

You can read much more about how smart technologies can help reduce air pollution in the Council's Smart Cities Readiness Guide, which is available for download to registered SCC members. Not registered yet? It's quick, free and you only have to do it once. Register now >>

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Jesse Berst is the founding Chairman of the Smart Cities Council. Click to learn about the benefits you receive when you join the Council for free. Follow @Jesse_Berst and connect on LinkedIn.