It might come as a surprise that Amsterdam, an obscenely scenic city with an extensive public transportation system and so many bikes that there’s nowhere to park them all, struggles with poor air quality.
In fact, health woes triggered by air pollution are the third largest cause of death in the Dutch capital city (and the rest of the Netherlands) trailing behind obesity and smoking-related illnesses with 11 different locations surpassing acceptable, EU-established concentrations of nitrogen dioxide and reaching dangerous levels.
When ranked and assigned letter a grade with other major European cities by the Soot-Free for the Climate campaign, Amsterdam doesn’t fail, but it barely scraps by with a D+ mark. Zurich, Vienna, Stockholm and perennial overachiever, Copenhagen, all emerged at the top of the class. On the flipside, Rome, Madrid, Dublin, Glasgow, Lisbon and Luxembourg City have some serious work to do.
Whereas Amsterdam scored exceptionally high marks in categories such as Promotion of Walking & Cycling and Transparency & Communication Policy, the city was dragged down by low scores in areas such as Low Emission Zones & Bans of High Emitters.
While it won’t boost Amsterdam to NO2-eliminating star pupil overnight, entrepreneurial Dutchman Joris Lam has conceived a snazzy, low-cost design concept that aims to make his fellow Amsterdammers more aware of the city's air pollution woes while rewarding them for doing something about it.
Dubbed TreeWiFi, Lam's prototype smart birdhouse would ideally be replicated and affixed to trees in neighborhoods throughout the city. While the cute ‘n’ tiny structure itself doesn’t actually provide shelter to Amsterdam’s avian residents, it does house tiny, air quality-measuring NO2 sensors along with Wi-Fi routers that distribute public wireless access to neighborhoods.
Excellent. But there’s a catch …
The TreeWiFi birdhouses only go into free wireless mode when NO2 levels have decreased. That is, improved air quality results in free Wi-Fi. When pollution levels soar, tough luck.
When things have improved and optimum air quality levels have been achieved, LED lights incorporated into the birdhouses’ design glow green. During this time, Amsterdammers can take advantage of the gratis wireless while also learning about basic steps they can take — if they haven't already — to keep the Wi-Fi flowing.
Having received initial funding through the Awesome Foundation, Lam has now taken to crowdfunding platform Heroes and Friends to raise additional funds (6500 euros in total) that will enable his small but growing team to build five smart birdhouses and install them in targeted areas across Amsterdam where NO2 levels brought on by vehicular traffic are particularly bad.
Lam explains why he’s decided to focus directly on the reduction of NO2:
After talking to air quality experts from the Dutch RIVM institute and attending several presentations at Waag Society, it has become clear that the focus should be measuring nitrogen dioxide(NO2) as a focus, and fine dust comes in second. This is because fine dust is composed out of various sources, the biggest being fine dust from other countries or natural sources, which makes it hard for individuals to positively impact lower concentrations in the city. Nitrogen dioxide however is strictly related to combustion, and with that to traffic in your street. Doing something about traffic should positively impact the NO2 concentrations TreeWiFi measures.
He adds on the project’s Awesome Foundation page:
By giving people free WiFi and cool lights when the air quality improves, I want to make taking the bike or public transport something that has a very clear advantage, and a street full of sparkling trees is really awesome, don't you think?
Couldn’t agree more, although I do wonder how refuge-seeking birds will react to an abundance of weird glowing birdhouses filled with electronic parts. (Lam ultimately hopes to install 500 sensor-equipped units throughout Amsterdam.)
If all goes well on the crowdfunding front, perhaps Lam and the TreeWiFi team could install the real-deal nearby each air quality-measuring, wireless-providing birdhouse.