Consortium partner Eline Verhoeven reflects on Rotterdam's first Mutual Learning Workshop
Photo from Rotterdam's Mutual Learning Workshop
On November 8, 2023, residents and involved parties of Frontrunner City Rotterdam gathered in the Rotterdam City Hall for our first CitiObs Mutual Learning Workshop. The objective was to reflect on Rotterdam’s local citizen science initiative ‘the Luchtclub’. What has the Luchtclub achieved so far? What lessons can other Citizen Observatories learn from the Luchtclub, both in the Netherlands and beyond? And what would be necessary for the continued success of this Citizen Observatory?
Rotterdam and Citizen Observatory ‘the Luchtclub’
Rotterdam is, with its 650.000 inhabitants, the second largest city and municipality in the Netherlands. It has Europe's largest seaport and is therefore a major logistic and economic centre. High population density alongside large industrial activity however also leads to air quality concerns. The local Environmental Protection Agency (DCMR) therefore intensively monitors air quality and other environmental parameters in the area. Besides that, citizens become increasingly interested to contribute to air quality monitoring around their homes.
In 2021 the municipality set up a citizen science initiative to monitor air quality: the Luchtclub. They distributed 600 sensors in the city, making it, as we believe, the most densely monitored city in the Netherlands and maybe even in the world! From 2024, however, official support for the project has come to an end. This makes the Luchtclub an interesting case for CitiObs, as we can dive deeper into how a Citizen Observatory has developed over the years and what results have been achieved. It also provides us with the opportunity to learn and provide support with how this Citizen Observatory can become sustainable and self-supporting after project support ends.
Luchtclub is successful in the quantity of sensors, but what to do with the results?
There were 15 participants at our workshop. We started with a discussion of participants' motivations to join the Luchtclub. Participants shared concerns about local pollution sources (wood burning, marine traffic, highway traffic) and related health effects, alongside the wish for more engagement between citizens and the government. Next, participants were asked to write down their views on the successes and challenges of citizen science in Rotterdam. The significant density of data points was seen as a major success. One of the challenges that various participants noted was: “We measure, and now what? How can we go from measuring air quality to improving air quality?” Also, the wish to involve more youth was highlighted.
During the second part of the workshop, we had a group discussion between residents, policy officers and data scientists from governmental institutions about the future of Luchtclub. The collaboration between local governmental institutions and citizens was recognized by all parties as valuable. Citizens stressed the need for continued support of the Luchtclub. Policy officers noted that it is important to engage with politicians as well in order to maximize the impact of the measurements. Data scientists highlighted that the high density of measuring stations provides useful insights in local air quality.
The results of the discussions were captured by a local artist.
Reflections and next steps
The event was highly informative, with a diverse group of participants connecting during the event. This facilitated extensive exchange of experiences from the Luchtclub and discussions about future endeavours. Luchtclub will undergo changes next year as the municipality relinquishes its facilitating role, and residents continue independently. At the moment we are having discussions on how we can support the Luchtclub in becoming an independent and strong community.