Workshop Learnings: Integrating Air Quality in Urban Planning in Nordic Cities

Despite the overwhelming evidence that urban air quality has an important impact on the liveability of cities and the health of citizens, it is not yet an integral piece of the development of future urban transformations. The air quality has a potential impact on vast areas and includes the entire population young and old alike. For this reason, it requires everyone to contribute to knowledge awareness to limit the impacts; in this sense, the air quality is ‘deliberative’ in its essence. This means that it is a good driver for advancing a participatory urban planning method to sensitize, engage and involve citizens in the production of knowledge and to join efforts in shaping future healthy, liveable, and sustainable smart cities. In this context, public participation is a key element in this approach.

Air quality is a value in Nordic cities and a signifier of the quality of their urban environment. Reflecting advanced welfare state democracies, Nordic cities show the capacity to expand the concept of public participation towards a progressive and integrative model of participatory urban planning, providing a favorable context for integrating air quality in urban planning through participation.

In order to start digging into the concept of participatory urban planning, the public authorities engaged in the NordicPATH project (Aalborg, Gotenborg, Kristiansand, Lappeenranta) joined a workshop organized by Aalborg University on March 11th (2021). The meeting focused on bringing together the diversity of experiences on public participation in the participating cities and sharing knowledge across research and practice through a digital dialogue.

The workshop was particularly meaningful to advance a common understanding of participatory planning in Nordic countries. The four municipalities met and exchanged their experiences provoking, facilitating, and exchanging knowledge about what participation means in the Nordic cities, which mindsets and tools are at use, and which challenges can be addressed through NordicPath. All municipalities have good experiences with citizen participation; however, a series of present and future challenges that need to be addressed emerged from the conversation:

  • The Nordic municipalities underlined the challenge of public participation through digitalization and questioned the readiness of public authorities to facilitate participation in a post-pandemic time with increased social distancing.
  • Silos-thinking and internal fragmentation of knowledge along diverse departments impede a consensus synergy on methods and logic of participation.
  • Meaningful participation also depends on the visibility of its impact and the materialization of the diverse contributions on cities and urban identity formation for the future. As such, there is a need to anchor participation in the identity of the city as a way of fostering meaningful public debate, to establish local citizens associations and match expectations between planners, citizens, and public officials, and then to materialize and visualize the results of participatory planning in cities.
  • There is the need to create new methods to involve the voices of communities often excluded by formal public hearings, such as children.

This can prove to set a discussion for long-term transformative work in urban planning and was an essential first step to start designing collaborative strategies for the livability of cities, ensuring an integral combination of air quality and urban planning through participation. After all, the aim of NordicPATH is to create a new model to address the various needs and challenges identified during the workshops on how to look at air quality for urban development from a participatory perspective.

Actionable steps to reduce the impact of wood-burning on air quality

NordicPATH is all about facts and solutions.

A great example of this approach is the recently published article by Kristiansand Kommune. In there, not only they provide state-of-the-art PM pollution mapping with data collected from citizens’ air monitoring through sensors. During periods of unusually low temperatures over several days, the cold air has led to high levels of air pollution in some areas due to elevated levels of airborne dust, including wood burning. The cold winter weather, in combination with a rise in the time we spend home and the increase in the price of electricity, has contributed to more wood burning.

As part of a series of activities for awareness and co-creation of solutions to minimize the impact of wood-burning practices, the article also collects some good practices and actionable tips that we can all consider to make wood-burning less damaging for air quality. These tips will be extended and complemented in a collaborative workshop on wood-burning impact and practices next month. Stay tuned!

Kicking off Kristiansand Urban Lab

While a little virus paralyzed the whole world last year, NordicPATH not only kicked off but can already show a considerable amount of engagement in the Urban Lab activities in Kristiansand.

Before the summer of 2020, we started identifying stakeholder groups that could be interested in the NordicPATH activities or that would be able to support the project one way or the other. After summer, the activities in Kristiansand were officially launched during the “Sustainability Festival” (“Miljøuka”). Solvor B. Stølevik and Alena Bohackova from the Kristiansand municipality presented NordicPATH at a stand, handing out information materials and invitations to interested citizens to join the project activities.


Their work paid off, and many citizens volunteered to host a sensor for air quality monitoring at their home and to get involved in further project activities. In autumn 2020, we could distribute about 30 sensors to interested citizens who wanted to measure particulate matter pollution in the Kristiansand air.


“The participants have been following closely the air pollution values on their sensors. Many expressed their surprise when they discovered how much wood burning can actually affect air quality”, tells Solvor B. Stølevik.

In addition, we launched a survey about woodburning and air quality in Kristiansand where people also had the opportunity to contribute their views and ideas about how to improve urban air quality. Until now (January 2021), we have already collected over 200 responses.

Both measurement data and survey results will be presented at an event early this spring to both, the municipality and interested citizens. The event will be hosted by NILU, together with the Kristiansand municipality, and the Norwegian Asthma and Allergy Association. We also plan to invite the Norwegian Institute of Public Health to inform about the health effects of wood-burning and other particulate matter air pollution. Interested citizens will then have the opportunity to discuss results and pressing issues with the municipality and other groups attending.

“So far, the NordicPATH activities in Kristiansand seem to have found favor with our citizens. We are looking forward to continuing our good cooperation and hope that many citizens will continue their participation throughout the project period”, concludes Stølevik.

Even though the project has been running for less than one year, we have already engaged with numerous citizens in the project activities in Kristiansand. It seems they truly care about the city they live in and we are looking forward to planning and carrying out more engagement activities to raise awareness of the citizens about environmental issues and to plan a healthy Kristiansand together with them.

NordicPATH video x EU Citizen Engagement and Deliberative Democracy Festival

Some weeks ago, NordicPATH was selected to participate in the 3rd annual EU Citizen Engamenet and Deliberative Democracy Festival. For the festival, we created a short video to show the key activities and actions we are developing in the project and their connection with the main topics of the festival.

The video shows our constant focus on participatory, healthy and people-centered cities. We are continuously engaging citizens, together with planners and designers, to co-create future sustainable cities, with a vast range of activities, from discussion groups to active air monitoring, co-creation sessions or workshops, among others. Here you can take a sneak peek:

And this is just the beginning! So do not hesitate to contact us or subscribe here if you want to join any of our Urban Labs.

Diving into the habits and effects of wood burning in Kristiansand (Norway)

The European Environment Agency warns of the effects of wood-burning due to its significant contribution to air pollution. Its association to cozy, warm, and welcoming environments opposes its harmful effects on human health. Proven to be the biggest source of outdoor fine particles that cause approximately 400,000 premature deaths in Europe every year and is responsible for serious diseases of millions of Europeans, the concern and controversy surround policy recommendations and regulations that tackle the impact of wood burning (European Environment Agency, Air Quality in Europe report).

Following our project ideal of collaboratively planning healthier cities, Kristiansand Kommune has launched an online survey that not only dives into citizens’ visions, habits, and practices around wood-burning but also invites them to step into urban planners’ shoes to distribute public funding and imagine measures to address this environmental topic.

The survey will be open during the winter season 2020/2021 in order to collect impressions, ideas, and habits of local citizens that will serve as a baseline for further co-creational activities for policy making around this urgent topic. Send your submissions here (available both in English and Norwegian). In NordicPATH we are looking forward to seeing the results and evolution of this initiative. Stay tuned!

Join our Kristiansand Urban Lab!

Påmelding til Kristiansand Urban Lab – Dugnad for en bedre by er nå åpen

Du kan nå registrere deg som deltaker i Kristiansand Urban Lab for å forme byens framtid. Gå inn på denne lenken (norsk) der du finner ytterligere informasjon samt påmeldingsskjema. Bli med på dugnaden for en bedre by!

Photo: Anders Martinsen

You can now register as a participant for the Kristiansand Urban Lab. At this link (English) you will find additional information and the registration form. Join the activities in Kristiansand today!

NordicPATH takes part in the Citizen Science SDG conference

We are happy to announce our presence at the Citizen Science SDG Conference!

Next 14th – 15th October 2020, our project will be presented at the Knowledge for Change: A decade of Citizen Science (2020-2030) in support of the SDGs.

In a hybrid format in Berlin and online, the conference will present, evaluate and discuss the exciting contributions that citizen science makes in framing and achieving sustainable development, with a specific focus on the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Policy makers, institutional and citizen scientists, economists, NGOs and civil society will bring and share their expertise to implement mechanisms and processes for the transition towards a more sustainable future, addressing topics around citizen science such as:

  • Citizen science for the UN Sustainable Development Goals, e.g. good health and well-being, quality education, life on land and below water
  • Policy and scientific methodology of citizen science to implement the SDGs
  • Scientific benefit of citizen science networks and platforms and their impact on society

Due to the evident common ground existing between the conference frame and our project’s goals and approach, we are looking forward to sharing our knowledge, learn and get inspired by the participants at the conference

You can read more about the program here:

Press: the co-relation between low-cost air quality sensors and citizen empowerment in pollution fight

Some weeks ago, the multimedia information platform Vox Media’s The Verge contacted our project leader and senior researcher Nuria Castell for a science article on the role cheap air-quality sensors are transforming the pollution-fight scenario. Together with other experts in the field, she highlights the potential of a crowd of individuals monitoring air data particles that can cover a considerable extension of land, opposite to the high-accuracy sensors, which are more expensive and difficult to access.

As explained in the article, the combination and contrast of information between the two sources are not only enriching the amount of information that is available for scientists to study air pollution, but also providing citizens with tools to face regulatory bodies and decision-makers when it comes to urban planning that affects their health and well-being.  

This reasoning positively aligns with our project goals and vision. In NordicPATH, we aim to create a strong network of fixed high-quality sensors and low-cost sensors that provide us with substantial Air Quality data to inspire and ground the actions of our participatory urban planning labs to create healthier, smart, and sustainable cities.

You can read the article here.