Arup Global Research Challenge: Novel technologies to understand relationships between green infrastructure and environmental quality in cities

Lead Research Organisation: University of York
Department Name: Environment


About half of the world's population lives in urban areas and ongoing migration into city has given rise to larger cities or even megacities. Rapid urbanization and more intensive human activities have led to adverse environmental changes that deplete or impair environmental/ecosystem services; ultimately compromising the sustainability of economic activity. Urban pollution can also impact the health of the natural environment. It has long been recognised that Green Infrastructure (GI), such as trees, grassland, waterbodies, can enhance the quality of city environments. GI can mitigate against some types of urban pollution as well as be affected by urban pollution. However, the interplays between GI and urban pollution and other measures of environmental quality are still poorly understood. By better understanding these relationships, it may be possible to better integrate GI into the design and operation of cities. New monitoring and modelling technologies, such as wireless sensing networks, drones and crowdsourcing, could provide a better understanding of the relationships between GI and the quality of city environments.
The aim of the project is therefore to explore how new modelling and monitoring technologies could be used to better understand the potential impact of GI resources within cities on environmental quality. The project will initially involve a detailed review of what new technologies are available for monitoring environmental quality (e.g. ecology, noise, humidity, temperature, NOx, particulates, volatile organic compounds and ozone) in cities. A selection of these technologies will then be employed in a small-scale pilot experimental study to monitor the relationships between one or more types of green infrastructure and environmental quality in a site in York. This pilot study will provide an understanding of how these studies should be designed, how the data should be analysed as well as providing data at high temporal and spatial resolutions on the impacts of the GI.

Planned Impact

This project will identify and evaluate novel approaches for understanding the impacts of green infrastructure on environmental quality in cities. The availability of these technologies will allow us, for the first time, to assess the benefits of green infrastructure for environmental quality at very high temporal and spatial resolutions. The use of the approaches will, in the future, provide knowledge on the performance of different green infrastructure approaches allowing businesses and government agencies, involved in city planning, to make informed decisions on which green infrastructure approaches should be employed in cities; where these should be optimally located; and how they should be operated. In the longer term, this will provide benefits to society as a whole be improving health and wellbeing.


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Description A review has been produced on available approaches for monitoring the impacts of green infrastructure on environmental quality. Following completion of the review, a number of potential candidate study sites across York were identified from maps and site walkabouts. One study site was selected and instrumented with 12 field calibrated Elm sensors that monitor air quality (NOx, VOCs, ozone, dust), temperature and humidity every 20 seconds. The sensors were placed close to a busy road and at varying distances from the road and in relation to the green infrastructure. Weather stations were also installed at the site and traffic flow surveys and a soundscape analysis were performed on a number of occasions. The site was instrumented in early summer 2016 and the sensors will be removed in April/May 2017. Data analysis to date shows that concentrations of key pollutants (NOx, ozone and dust) do decline with increasing distance from the road. We are currently working on the data to establish what proportion, if any, of the observed decline is due to the green infrastructure.
Exploitation Route The study has demonstrated the power of using sensing networks for understanding drivers of environmental quality. The findings and knowledge gained during the project are already being used by the project team in new projects e.g. the RCUK/Innovate UK-funded York City Environment Observatory project as well as a number of projects that are in development.
Sectors Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice,Transport

Description York City Environment Observatory
Amount £434,131 (GBP)
Organisation Research Councils UK (RCUK) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 06/2016 
End 11/2017
Description Keynote talk at the EMCON2018 conference in Oslo, Norway 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Keynote talk entitled 'Characterising Chemical Exposure in Urban Environments'.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description Presentation at Chemical Exposure and Risk Workshop in Guangzhou, China 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Gave keynote lecture entitled 'Characterising Chemical Exposure in Urban Environments'. This drew upon many of the activities done during the YCEO project
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018