Improving Air Quality Through Design


By Claire Hunt

Claire Hunt explores how we can do our part to improve air quality.

Last week BBC2 featured my home town of Kings Heath, Birmingham, as part of a programme investigating the issue of air quality in UK towns and cities. The programme investigated various measures which could help to reduce the harmful levels of nitrogen oxide: from closing parking bays on the high street, to adjusting traffic light sequencing, and encouraging alternative forms of transport.

This got me thinking as to how, professionally and personally, we can contribute to cleaning up the air on our high streets. As designers of the built environment, we should always take this into consideration and encourage our clients to promote walking and cycling as part of their ethos. This could include providing safe and secure cycle parking with changing and washing facilities, retaining and increasing the number of trees on site, and looking beyond the site boundary to see how connections can be made with local walking, cycling, and public transport routes.

On a personal level we can also make a contribution; whether it’s leaving the car at home for short journeys, lift sharing, cycling, walking, or just driving more efficiently. As part of the BBC documentary, Birmingham city council trailed a ‘Green Wave’ in Kings Heath. This is where all the traffic lights are either on green or red, meaning that cars were able to move through the high street at a constant speed. This had a significant effect on the levels of nitrogen oxide. The constant stop start traffic in cities means that a car’s emissions spike each time it pulls away. Allowing the traffic to move smoothly decreases the amount of emissions.

Currently, electric or hybrid cars are too expensive for most people to be able to afford or the range of the battery is too limiting. Even government bodies, such as the Environment Agency, don’t give their staff hybrid cars as standard. Bus companies say that electric buses do not have a battery with a long enough range. The tipping point feels close however, and one day we may look back and wonder why we were choking our cities with invisible gasses from exhausts.

In an ideal world, we could turn main routes into the cities into linear nature parks with electric trams and bikes; walkways and cycle routes; cross country running routes; drainage ponds; BMX and skateboarding parks; and electric bike charging or hire points – anything to get us moving and reducing our emissions.

But until then, together with our clients and colleagues, we can go some way to ensuring that the projects we work on, and the personal choices we make when travelling, help to create cleaner air.

Catch up on the programme here



Claire Hunt

Claire Hunt

Claire joined ADP in 2008. As a Senior Landscape Architect she is responsible for looking after the team and managing projects from start to finish. She is also a Chartered Member of the
Landscape Institute.