Busy hubs of industry, transit and economic power, Chicago and New Delhi have much in common. They are also official sister cities, cooperating culturally and commercially, exchanging expertise in education, infrastructure and other areas of mutual concern.

Air pollution is a pressing issue confronting both.

Smog obscures the skylines of Chicago, left, and New Delhi, right. (© AP Images)

Chicago and New Delhi received low marks for air quality in recent years from monitoring agencies. But both cities are addressing this serious problem with the support of local and national governments.

“The road ahead will require collective and individual effort, long-term vision, and immediate action,” the 2015 Sustainable Chicago action agenda states, but it concludes that rewards in public health and its economy make the effort worthwhile. Mayor Rahm Emanuel proposes to improve Chicago’s air quality by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, generating jobs and increasing the availability of efficient, sustainable energy at the same time.

What creates the smog?

Chicago has gotten cleaner since 2012 by closing the Crawford Generating Station and one other coal-fired power plant, the city’s biggest industrial polluters. (© AP Images)

Chicago’s air pollution comes chiefly from motor vehicles and old-tech industry and infrastructure. New Delhi’s is from similar sources, but is exacerbated by power outages that result in use of diesel generators and by open trash burning and inefficient cookstoves that produce black carbon. Outdated coal-fired power plants, brick kilns and factories also release dangerous levels of particulate matter and other unhealthy pollutants.

That is set to change in New Delhi and other Indian cities with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s new initiatives to reduce urban pollution. Announcing the India Smart Cities Challenge in June, Modi joined leaders across the globe in asking for more efficient urban planning.

India Smart Cities Challenge to spur innovation

The India Smart Cities Challenge solicits best practices from 100 cities around India, an exercise “in which the citizens of urban India could contribute to the formulation of development of their cities,” leading to “people-centric urban development,” Modi said.

Air quality and clean energy are among topics discussed by President Obama and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (© AP Images)

Efficient transport, energy and walkable cities are goals Modi cited. He stressed that ensuring a good life for all residents “is the government’s responsibility.” Each state will nominate cities for the competition. Winning city projects, to be announced in April 2016, will receive government funding.

The government of India has mounted the Smart Cities Challenge in partnership with U.S.-based Bloomberg Philanthropies, a nonprofit foundation that aims to improve cities worldwide. Founder and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said, “Prime Minister Modi recognizes the vital role cities can play in building a strong future for India, especially if local innovation is encouraged and rewarded.”

American scientist Joshua Apte installs an air pollution monitor in a New Delhi auto-rickshaw for a joint study by the University of California Berkeley and the Indian Institute of Technology, New Delhi. (© AP Images)

Air quality monitoring people can use

The Indian government also inaugurated a National Air Quality Index to increase citizens’ pollution awareness in 10 major cities through color-coded alerts. Cities using similar code alerts include Los Angeles, Mexico City, Beijing and Paris. Updated information will be displayed publicly, online and through a SAFAR-AIR mobile app.

Increased migration to prosperous cities makes air pollution a stubborn problem in both Chicago and New Delhi. Even so, governments are involving businesses and residents in solutions and are clearing the air.

The city-based model of improving air quality is gaining strength as leaders and city mayors worldwide unite in such efforts as C40 Cities to share knowledge, strategies and technologies. The lives and livelihoods of billions of people depend upon their success.