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York partners plan city environment observatory

Posted on 19 May 2016

The University of York and City of York Council are to establish a unique City Environment Observatory (YCEO) to further our understanding of how health, wellbeing and economic issues are linked to the quality of the environment.

Funded by the Research Council UK and Innovate UK Urban Living Partnership scheme, York is one of five cities, along with Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds and Newcastle (including Gateshead), chosen to take part in the initiative.

Led by the University of York’s Environment Department and the Council’s Business Intelligence department, the project will provide an evidence base for the city to meet future environmental challenges. Entirely unique to the UK, it will bring together 23 project partners, including businesses, local government, national agencies and research institutes.

Over the next 18 months the project team will develop an observatory design prototype to be implemented in the next five years.

The project will involve:

  • Applying novel tools and systems to better understand the impact of the natural, cultural, social and built environments on the health and well-being of citizens
  • The expansion of the York Open Data platform to host the city’s environmental data, provided by the projects partners
  • Building and designing a system to generate real-time data to improve our understanding of the environment of York and other cities
  • Designing models to forecast future environmental pressures

Data and results will be of significant benefit to citizens, the research community, city decision makers, national government departments, large and small businesses and future generations of different sectors. Ways in which YCEO data will be used includes:

  • Citizens and community groups will actively participate in the YCEO via citizen science activities, and will be able to access different data sets such as air quality where they live and work
  • Researchers working in the environment, health, social science and humanities sectors can access models and data to fully understand the links between the quality of the environment, health, well-being and the economy
  • City of York Council and other decision makers, such as the Environment Agency and NHS Trusts, will be able to find holistic intelligence to make evidence-based decisions on the design and operation of the city to benefit citizens. Data will mean they are better placed to demonstrate the impacts of different interventions, such as the designation of the city as an ultra-low emission zone, changes in transport policy and flood planning.
  • Businesses and cultural and heritage organisations will benefit from YCEO knowledge to make long-term improvements to York in terms of safety, attractive environments and healthier and happier workers
  • Knowledge and understanding gathered will be transferrable to other cities in the UK and around the world

Professor Alistair Boxall, Project Lead, said: “The RCUK and Innovate UK funding will allow us to lay the groundwork to establish York as a unique and world leading city observatory which will enable us to better understand the importance of environmental quality for the health and wellbeing of people and the economy of cities. This understanding will help us to design and manage cities much more cleverly than we are able to do at the moment.

“York is an ideal city for establishing a whole city observatory of this type. It is not too big, meaning that the observatory is manageable. It is a highly data-rich city that can be modelled in four dimensions. It is also home of a number of exciting relevant initiatives such as the YorkSense monitoring project, the York Open Data Platform and the Digital Creativity Laboratories.”

Cllr Andrew Waller, Executive Member for the Environment at City of York Council, said: “We’re delighted to be chosen as one of a handful of cities that will benefit from the Urban Living Partnership. This will enable York to develop a coherent and prioritised list of health, well-being and economic concerns that are potentially linked to the quality of the city environment.

“It also supports the city’s One Planet York campaign, to be a more sustainable and resilient city where we all work together to create healthy and sustainable lives. The YCEO will make a major contribution to this ambition by better understanding the impact natural, social, cultural and built environments have on peoples’ health and wellbeing.”

Information on the progress of the project, as well as engagement events, will be available through the open data site from mid-June onwards.

Further information:

  • For more information about the University of York’s Environment Department, visit:
  • For further information about City of York Council, visit:
  • For further information about The Open Data platform, visit:
  • One Planet York: Typically in the UK we are using the resources of three planets when we only have one. One Planet York is as emerging network of organisations working towards a vision of York as a sustainable, resilient and collaborative ‘One Planet’ city through a wide range of individual actions. The vision has been endorsed by City of York Council and many other organisations, including the York Environmental Sustainability Institute and the Stockholm Environment Institute.
  • For more information about the Research Council UK, visit:

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