Kuala Lumpur Deploys Hyperlocal Air Quality Monitoring Network at WUF9
Clarity Movement Co. (Clarity), an environmental sensing startup founded in 2014 by a group of UC Berkeley graduates, collaborated with the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN–Habitat) to deploy a pilot air quality monitoring network at the 9th session of UN-Habitat’s World Urban Forum (WUF9) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia this past February.
The air quality network’s real-time air quality data were livestreamed as part of a living lab at the Urban Brain Bamboo Pavilion for the duration of WUF9, where Clarity OpenMap’s interactive air quality data engaged Forum participants and local residents with data-driven solutions to urban challenges in one of Southeast Asia’s fastest growing metropolitan areas.
UN-Habitat and Clarity worked alongside Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) and other private partners in the living lab to showcase the environmental and social benefits of active transport, supporting Kuala Lumpur’s efforts in promoting cycling as a sustainable form of transportation. The air quality monitoring network will continue to operate in Kuala Lumpur indefinitely to support citizens and city officials as part of a WUF9 legacy project.
Intersecting Human Rights and Technology
Every two years, the World Urban Forum invites the world’s leading experts, activists, and representatives from public and private sectors to participate in a global discussion on the challenges and goals of sustainable urban development and human settlements. This year, the City of Kuala Lumpur hosted the instrumental WUF9 at Kuala Lumpur Convention Center (KLCC) with 22,000 representatives from 165 countries over the span of one week.
The conference wrapped up with the release of the Kuala Lumpur Declaration on Cities 2030, which included a call for “understanding the impact of new technologies and potential of open and accessible data, which require governance and design models that help to ensure no one is left behind”. The short statement highlights two pivotal considerations in the journey to urban sustainability:
- Technology has the potential to multiply the impact of human rights efforts. Implementing innovative solutions to increasingly urban landscape can help post-industrialization communities recover from environmental degradation and help post-colonial communities leapfrog infrastructure disparity.
- The development of technology should be coupled with the intent of its patrons to implement solutions that are applicable, inclusive, and impactful. The power to benefit or further ostracize marginalized communities depends on the methods and models private-public partnerships choose to engage with.
Clarity’s collaboration with UN-Habitat is supported by our strong mission of using technology to empower communities and improve quality of life. Our belief is that as governments and civil society continue to standardize technology and data solutions as a criterion to the future prosperity of cities, the private sector also needs to restructure the framework of our industry. Genuine purpose and relevant innovation will determine the next generation of leading technology companies.
From Movement-driven Data to Data-driven Movements
Clarity, UN-Habitat, and DBKL effortlessly deployed 5 Clarity Nodes the morning of the exhibition opening ceremony in the following locations:
- Kuala Lumpur Convention Center (KLCC)
- Central Market
- Bukit Bintang
- Chow Kit (A)
- Chow Kit (B)
Four of the Nodes — KLCC, Central Market, Chow Kit A & B — were strategically placed along Kuala Lumpur’s new route of designated cycling lanes debuted at WUF9. The project gathered local volunteer cyclists and activists to participate in the living lab for data collection and advocacy around cycling. Equipped with access to dock-less bike share bicycles from O-Bike and biosensor wearables from Multimer, cyclists tracked the air quality along the cycling route on their mobile devices or on the big screen at the Urban Brain Bamboo Pavilion. An additional deployment site near Bukit Bintang was selected by DBKL to monitor air quality trends in the highly trafficked area.
Kuala Lumpur citizens can continue to use Clarity OpenMap to quantify personal exposure, predict and plan for peak pollution events, and optimize cycling routes. The real-time air quality data will inform users on high pollution events when they are advised to wear N95 masks or extreme pollution events in which they should altogether refrain from vigorous exercise. Vice versa, this information will also empower and encourage people to choose to travel sustainably via bicycle on a clean day.
Concurrent with the citizen engagement side, Kuala Lumpur city officials will be able to access the data for in-depth evaluation of clean air policies.
Designing the Next Generation of Cities
The first order of business for the city will be to evaluate the effectiveness of Kuala Lumpur’s Car Free Morning initiative to reduce car emissions pollutants and educate citizens on air quality concerns. Car access is restricted on designated routes to encourage green transportation alternatives such as cycling, walking, and skating on the first and third Sunday of each month.
Introduced in 2013, the city has yet to properly measure the air pollution mitigation impacts of the Car Free Morning due to lack of information. Little or outdated air quality monitoring technology is currently a pressing problem for cities worldwide. Clarity is working with DBKL and UN-Habitat to collect air quality data and assess the impact of the Car Free Morning in the coming months, helping Kuala Lumpur gain a decisive head start in air pollution mitigation.