Cities that want to breathe: Clean air protests in Brussels and Sofia

Europe has a problem with air. The levels of air pollution across the continent are getting worse and one of the main contributing factors is motor vehicles. Brussels and Sofia are two cities that have high levels of air pollution and a growing concern among citizens. In Brussels the quality air and the volume of traffic is linked to the tax free status of company cars that are offered to employees as part of reward and recognition processes. In Sofia the large increase in cars following the end of state socialism and the growth in private transportation is connected with coal or wood used in homes for heating and in industry. In both city’s local resident’s have become increasingly concerned over the health implications that include a growing prevalence of childhood asthma. Throughout Europe as many as 402,00-432,000 deaths are caused by the poor quality of the air per year. This raises questions of what to do for those concerned. In Brussels CleanAIRBXL (http://www.cleanairbxl.be) is a pressure group that is working to highlight the issues of air pollution. The group has staged several protests in visible places around Brussels to inform others and promote the cause. The latest protest on18/02/17 was involved placing safety masks on statues around the city with slogans to help drive home their message. The day ended with a mannequin challenge outside the Magritte Museum in the heart of Brussels. For a video report follow this link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5RHPOiYv3K4.

Images courtesy of @cleanairBXL

In Sofia a similar protest saw famous landmarks co-opted into the cause (for a photo gallery follow this link

http://m.dnevnik.bg/photos/2017/01/31/2909605_fotogaleriia_emblematichni_pametnici_v_sofiia_osumnaha – this site is only in Bulgarian). As well as drawing attention to an important cause and one that draws on urban sustainability, mobility, culture, and health the clean air protests also work to raise question of the different techniques groups have for influencing policy. In this instance, it is a case of big visible demonstrations.  Alternative or accompanying style are small acts of everyday alternative practices that include choice of transport, ways of living in cities, or concerted efforts at animating political action. The use of iconic urban space is key tool in the urban protesters arsenal. The clean air protests are an attempt to engage residents in activism for more sustainable urban futures.

85123Image courtesy of novinite.bg

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