Actively engaging people during the pandemic: AIR-HERITAGE info points
The AIR-HERITAGE info points
A total of four info points were initially designed across the city, with the aim to provide information to citizens and encourage their participation in activities. In particular, two of the info points were located inside municipal buildings (one in the Town Hall and one in another municipal building at the city centre), one at the University of Naples Federico II and one at the National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development (ENEA).
However, due to the impact of COVID-19 on city life, AIR-HERITAGE focused on operating one info point, the one in the city centre that is more accessible to all citizens. This is being run by Legambiente, an Italian environmental association.
By far the biggest challenge faced to date is COVID-19, which has significantly affected the operation of the info points. Municipal offices, schools, universities and other sites were closed for prolonged periods of time, whilst restrictions were put in place on people’s movement and on the number of people permitted to visit a specific site at a time, making it difficult to run the info point on a continuous basis.
On the other hand, the pandemic has had a multi-dimensional impact on people, including a cultural and psychological impact. It has challenged several aspects of peoples’ lives, in a very short time. From one day to another, citizens had to endure lockdowns and stay at home. Everyday life changed, and since then people cannot greet each other with handshakes, hugs and kisses, as typically done in Portici in the past. Social distancing has become a necessity; practically the social norm in society. Hence, people have limited their activities to only the essential ones, and the fear of being in close proximity to other people has creeped into everyday life, making people reluctant to visit the info point.
Other circumstances have also affected the info point’s reach, for example, the extreme warm weather this summer that further limited people’s mobility during the morning, which is when the info point is open.
As a result, even in periods when the info point has been running, the number of visitors is lower than originally anticipated. Therefore, the info point has not realised its full potential, although it has successfully reached and engaged a considerable amount of people so far.
Turning these challenges into success
The AIR-HERITAGE info point was first launched during the summer of 2020. Due to the pandemic though, this was taken to the street. More specifically, an info point stand was set up every day at different locations in the city centre to engage and inform people passing by. Even in this mobile form, and whilst taking all the necessary measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 (e.g. masks, disinfectants), it was proven difficult to engage with people. Eventually, the info point closed in autumn due to the spread of the virus.
From this point onwards, AIR-HERITAGE continued to engage citizens through social media. In addition, citizens could contact Legambiente for information by phone or email, as well as make appointments for face to face meetings.
Fortunately, in January 2021, the info point re-opened in a municipal building at the city centre. Since then, it has had a very positive impact on raising awareness and changing peoples’ behaviour, whilst it has been well received by people.
What do citizens gain from visiting the Info point?
The info point is where citizens can go and learn more about air pollution, discover what AIR-HERITAGE is doing and understand better how they can help to improve the air they breathe. Most importantly it is a hub for the exchange of knowledge and experience, and for raising awareness on good practices across Europe to alleviate air pollution.
People can pick up informative leaflets at the info point, along with diaries for 2021 that include information about AIR-HERITAGE, the importance of nature, the relationship between air quality and health, and other key environmental information to make citizens more aware, and trigger behavioural change.
Citizens can also pick up the AIR-HERITAGE innovative air pollution bedsheets, designed to be placed on residents balconies for 60 days to monitor air quality. These work by changing colour, which with the use of a colorimeter indicate the level of outdoor air pollution near peoples’ houses. To date, approximately 1,500 bedsheets have been distributed through the info points to about 500 people (as these can be placed at a different balconies of the same household). These bedsheets can then be re-used by people after washing them, for example for cleaning.
Finally, at the info point, citizens can learn more about air pollution monitoring, whilst during the monitoring campaigns they had the opportunity to participate in such activities. More specifically, people learned about the biomonitoring campaign and the MONICA air quality multisensor monitoring campaign.
The impact of the info points
Notwithstanding the many obstacles faced, the info point has successfully managed to reach and engage a considerable amount of people, approximately 4000-5000 people so far.
People that visited the info point were curious to learn more about the measures that the municipality is taking to improve their quality of life and reduce air pollution. Some people were already particularly sensitive to the problem, whilst others were not aware of it and the impact it has on their life. Mostly though, people were excited to be able to participate in the process.
Moreover, citizens were particularly interested to learn about the MONICA monitoring campaign and the science behind it, so the use of the MONICA air quality multisensor was illustrated at the info point, along with the results it yields. The sensors attracted a lot of attention and many expressed interest to participate. However, in practice the MONICA monitoring campaign was quite demanding, in terms of effort and time. For example, the user had to use the sensor when walking within the city for at least 30 minutes and as a minimum five days a week. On top of this, the user had to hold the sensor (and not just carry it in a bag) and be capable of using a smartphone and the MONICA application. As such, the MONICA multisensor was lent to people visiting the info point, which were able to trial it and view air quality levels across the path they followed, through a smartphone or the dedicated monitoring website.
On the other hand, the info point helped reveal barriers that hinder behavioural change, in particular in people that have an environmental consciousness but are not able to change their habits. For example, people who are willing to use more sustainable transport modes are forced to use their cars to go to work, as the city has a poor public transport system. This is particularly problematic since many people own and use old vehicles (i.e. about 50% of the cars in Portici are Euro 4 or older). Furthermore, the topography of the city, with steep streets and roads, does not ease the use of bicycles. Alternative solutions, such as electric cars, are too expensive for more citizens to buy, whilst basic charging infrastructure is not available. Therefore, it is clear that local administration needs to enable behavioural change, both by providing people with information, but also by actively supporting such a change with real solutions, for example by improving local public transport and by providing bonuses for the purchase of e-bikes.
Overall, the info point has illustrated the importance of having a citizens’ contact point so that the local administration and local stakeholders can directly engage with and inform people. This can trigger change, as it can motivate people to act, especially those that are more willing to, whilst also convince others to move towards the same direction, for example people that do not understand or undervalue the impact that air pollution has on their life and health. In parallel, it can help local administration identify local barriers along with possible solutions to address these.
AIR-HERITAGE will continue to run the info point and work closely with and for the citizens of Portici in order to improve local air quality and life