Learn how air quality improved in these cities

Local organizations in many cities are working together with their governments to tackle long-standing issues with air quality, and many of them are already seeing positive results. Here’s how three large urban areas — Chicago, Los Angeles and Pittsburgh — have made strides in helping their residents breathe easier.

Chicago

Chicago skylines with smog, left, and with clean air, right (Left photo © Kirn Vintage Stock/Alamy. Right photo © M. Spencer Green/AP Images)
Chicago, Illinois, in 1945, left, and in 2013, right (Left photo © Kirn Vintage Stock/Alamy. Right photo © M. Spencer Green/AP Images)

Local tech initiatives such as the Array of Things (AoT) are helping the city improve its air quality by using sensors on light posts throughout the city to collect vital data on the environment. This project, which started in 2016, has been collecting data on a scale not seen before in the city. Chicago also has created the Pollution Prevention Unit to reduce emissions, and the Respiratory Health Association is working with local partners to increase the use of electric vehicles and renewable energy.

Los Angeles

Los Angeles with smog, left, and with clean air revealing the San Gabriel Mountains, right (Both images © Nick Ut/AP Images)
A pall of smog over Los Angeles in 1978 (left). Snow-capped San Gabriel Mountains provide a backdrop to the downtown Los Angeles skyline in 2014. (Both images © Nick Ut/AP Images)

Los Angeles has made perhaps the most noticeable change, having been infamous in the 20th century for its high smog levels. New technology, such as solar panels and both hybrid and electric cars, has made construction and energy practices more environmentally friendly. Similarly, new state policies helped California’s carbon emissions to increase by just 4 percent from 1990 to 2010. The city plans to increase zero-emission vehicles by 50 percent and eliminate the use of coal entirely by 2025.

Pittsburgh

Black-and-white photo of smog-covered Pittsburgh and color photo of Pittsburgh with clean air (Left photo © Margaret Bourke-White/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images. Right photo © Clarence Holmes Photography/Alamy)
Pittsburgh at the junction of the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers in 1936, left, and in 2014, right (Left photo © Margaret Bourke-White/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images. Right photo © Clarence Holmes Photography/Alamy)

Once famous for its steel mills, Pittsburgh is now a model city for using new initiatives and technology to create a cleaner environment. People who visit Pittsburgh today can see the Tower at PNC Plaza, a 33-­story office building that surpassed the highest certification requirements in sustainable design from the U.S. Green Building Council. The city plans to utilize self­-driving electric vehicles and install signals and lights that are more environmentally ­friendly. In 2016, Carnegie Mellon University created an app called Smell Pittsburgh, which allows users to report pollutants by their odor and is now being developed across the United States to help other cities.

This article was written by freelance writer Lane Mikula.