Residents of Chinatown out enjoying a warm afternoon.

Residents of Chinatown out enjoying a warm afternoon.

Improving air quality in Boston

Keywords: 

design research

co-design

social venture

data-driven design

I'm part of a team that pursues individual, community, and program-driven ways to improve air quality through the reduction of Ultrafine Particle (UFP) concentration. These particles cause significant negative long-term health impacts and are a leading cause of death in the world according to the World Health Organization. People who live close to highways and airports are exposed to significant concentrations of UFP generated by combustion engines. Often, the neighborhoods which are closest to major roadways and airports are inhabited by underrepresented populations and low-income households, meaning that residents are disproportionately affected by poor air quality. 

Through design and technical research, my team is developing a social venture to create sustainable and healthy change in indoor air quality conditions in East Boston and Chinatown, two Boston neighborhoods at the intersection of poor air quality and high rates of poverty.

 
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Identifying the problem

UFPs are produced during combustion, which means they occur in greater concentrations in areas near transportation: highways, train stations, airports, shipping lanes, and ports. As real estate near transportation tends to be cheaper, the population living in those areas tends to have less wealth.

Our team focused our work on two Boston neighborhoods at the intersection of poor air quality and high rates of poverty, Chinatown and East Boston.

Zooming in

UFPs are really small. Most air filters are rated to remove particles of at least 300 nm in diameter, but UFPs are less than 100 nm in diameter. If you imagine the large arc in this graphic as a whole circle, that would be the size of a human hair relative (50,000 nm in diameter) to the tiny dot in the blue region, a UFP.

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Modeling the system

The average American spends 90% of their time indoors according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Our model explains how UFPs enter buildings and homes, and can be used to predict the effectiveness of various interventions at preventing UFPs from entering or removing them from the air once they are already inside.

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Designing for community spaces

Our team received a grant from the Kresge Foundation to develop community-approved air quality improvement interventions for Reggie Wong Park, a community hub of Chinatown where residents gather to play 9-man and basketball. The park is located between highways I-90, I-93, and South Station.

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Developing a design research strategy

As project manager, I'm leading my team as we strategize our design research process. We're conducting user research with residents and collaborating with neighborhood organizations to design solutions that are culturally appropriate and desirable.

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Testing interventions

We're testing possible interventions for improving air quality in real Boston homes and parks, and collecting data on their effectiveness at reducing indoor UFP concentrations.


Fall 2017 - Spring 2018 (project manager + design strategist, Spring 2018)
Affordable Design and Entrepreneurship
Olin College of Engineering / Babson College
Team: Daniela Casas, April Chen, Christine Dimke, Bradley Ditch, Isabel Harrison, Scott Hersey, Mimi Kome, Andrew Lidington, Aidan McLaughlin, Caz Nichols, Louise Nielsen, Cesar Santana

Collaborators: Doug Brugge from Community Assessment of Freeway Exposure and Health (CAFEH) at Tufts University, Gloria Devine and Justin Pasquariello from the East Boston Social Center, Lydia Lowe from the Chinatown Community Land Trust, Gail Miller from AIR, Inc., Marilyn Garcia and Shaquor Sandiford from the Chelsea Restoration Corporation