TL;DR — Community partnerships are one key component of Air Quality Management 2.0, which focuses on engaging key stakeholders in collaborative partnerships to more effectively and sustainably improve air quality. Communities often bear the brunt of air pollution’s negative impacts on public health, so it is essential that community voices are part of the conversation when it comes to air quality improvement initiatives and policy change. 

This blog is part of a series focusing on the concept of Air Quality Management 2.0, which aims to link together key stakeholders, from communities to industries, in the work to create sustainable air quality management programs and improve public health when it comes to the negative impacts of air pollution. Read our white paper on Air Quality Management 2.0 here.

Communities’ role in Air Quality Management 2.0

Increasing public involvement and engagement in air quality and environmental work is critical to expanding investments in long-term public health improvement.

It is crucial to recognize that the communities bearing the greatest exposure burdens often have limited access to resources, air quality data, and public voice.

Because air quality monitoring agencies are understandably not experts at community organizing, it is essential to engage in meaningful partnerships with community groups in air quality work.

Simply supplying air quality sensors to community residents is not enough, because data collection alone without support can lead to disempowering outcomes, disillusionment, and erosion of trust.

Instead, Air Quality Management 2.0 emphasizes the need for community capacity building to support long-term, sustainable, and resilient environmental work.

Through collaborative design, Air Quality Management 2.0 puts communities at the center of air quality programs”

— Sean Wihera

Stakeholders can meaningfully engage communities in partnership through a variety of avenues, including by:

  • Holding public workshops to identify community concerns, complete needs assessments, pinpoint local pollution hotspots, and determine ideal monitoring locations
  • Facilitating hands-on citizen science activities to build public awareness and related skills
  • Using tools such as dashboards, live web maps, apps, and notifications to disseminate key information and hyperlocal air quality data to residents who may be affected

Having community partnerships also brings benefits for regulators, who can use these as an opportunity to increase public awareness about air quality and educate the public on the differences between regulatory and non-regulatory measurements.

Supporting ongoing community-led initiatives is a key component of turning insights into effective, sustainable action, whether in the form of:

  • Citizen-gathered evidence of pollution sources
  • School air quality curricula
  • Neighborhood emission reduction campaigns
  • Policy advocacy

These kinds of collaborations allow residents to become partners in achieving clean air goals.

Collaborative community partnerships

Let’s look at a few successful community air quality initiatives to better understand the role that community partnerships can play in generating long-term, sustainable, and meaningful improvements to air quality.

The city of Richmond, which has historically struggled with poor air quality, deployed a network of fifty low-cost sensors through work with the environmental and youth development organization Groundwork Richmond.

By collecting data to ground-truth the disproportionate burden that historically disadvantaged communities face in the air quality and climate crises, this work aims to prioritize community partnerships and empower residents in the work for clean air.

Learn more about the work of Groundwork Richmond to improve the city’s air quality here.

In Grand Rapids, Michigan, collaborative work between JustAir and Community Collaboration on Climate Change (C4) champions community-centered partnerships to tackle air pollution, working to meet people where they are and engage in educational and economic empowerment.

By installing a low-cost air quality monitoring network across the city — especially centered in those neighborhoods that do not meet federal air quality standards — the network brought access to real-time, local air quality data to 200,000 residents This data can be used to inform and influence local and regional policy change to support clean air and reduce health disparities.

Read more about the work in Grand Rapids, Michigan here.

In San Francisco, the environmental non-profit Brightline Defense recognized just how significantly poor air quality was affecting public health concerns in the city — especially for those living in single-room occupancy (SRO) hotels that have been converted into affordable housing, where residents tend to face some of the most direct exposure to local air pollution.

During wildfire season, these concerns become even more dire as wildfire smoke significantly impacts air quality in the region.

Brightline is engaged in partnership with other non-profit organizations that develop youth educational opportunities and build community organizing, and they connect these community groups to regional and local government agencies — meaning the impact of their work extends beyond just air pollution data measurement and helps to influence air quality policy.

Learn more about our work with Brightline Defense here.

Valley Vision, a civic leadership organization in Sacramento, works to address residents’ air quality concerns through their Sacramento Neighborhoods Activating on Air Quality (SNAAQ) project to bring long-term improvement to the lives of those living in frontline communities, which suffer disproportionately from the harms of air pollution and climate change.

Valley Vision collaborates closely with the local regulatory agency, the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management Management District, and officials aim for the data collected from this air quality monitoring network to be used to create emissions reduction plans in the most affected areas of Sacramento. 

Maps and visualizations of air quality levels in different neighborhoods were used to help engage residents in discussions about air quality concerns and potential solutions that could be put into place.

Read more about Valley Vision’s work in Sacramento here.

Community engagement as the key to long-term air quality improvement

Successful partnerships with community groups help to engage residents in the work to improve their air and ensure regulators have the community perspective and input required to make more meaningful, long-term improvements to air quality.

Download the Air Quality Management 2.0 white paper here to learn more about the importance of engaging key stakeholders in partnership for meaningful air quality improvement, including communities, regulators, analysts, and technologies.

Interested in measuring air quality for cleaner air and a healthier climate? Get in touch with our team to learn more about our Sensing-as-a-Service solution for governments, businesses, and community organizations, using our Clarity Node-S monitors and Modules.