The Future of Urban Air

All good things come to those that wait. Here, finally, is the future of air info-graphic. Tomorrow (hopefully) I’ll post a link to the static map (PDF). Today, here is a rather spendid interactive version. (Click to enlarge and reveal hidden content).

Sometimes these maps are quite quick to create (e.g. the Future of Space) other times they take forever. This started out as a scribble almost 2-years ago. I then looked at weather maps, ancient cartographic maps and stylised images of sails, even breathing and wind, but eventually the scribble morphed into a street map. At this point I stumbled upon the work of an illustrator called Ed Fairburn and the scene was set for what I hope will become a great example of art/science collaboration.

The visual is a fictitious city street map with the face of a child hand-drawn by Ed over the streets. (the child was a quite deliberate choice, because children are linked to the future and, more importantly, it is far more provocative than if we’d used the image of an adult). Visually based tends, inventions and ideas then cluster around the eyes, sound-based thoughts cluster around the ears, smells around the nose and so on. But before I go on to explain what’s on the map, why does it exist at all?

I did a map looking at the future of water with Imperial some time ago. I’ve done food in the past too, so air felt like an obvious theme. Various people at Imperial were looking into air (as was Davos) and a quick Google search found there to be next to nothing about the future of air or the future of air in cities, which is always a good sign. Why urban air? Because most of the big problems and opportunities surrounding air in the future will be found in cities and mega-cities in particular. Of course, conveying ideas about something that cannot be seen (air) is challenging, but hopefully the map itself will help and there are a couple of entries of the map itself that might solve this too.

Maps generally are a powerful way to convey information, messages, arguments or ideas and hopefully this one will provoke some conversation about what is, after all, the most precious and perhaps most threatened resource of them all.

So, what’s on the map? Here’s a list. It’s not the final one, but it’s close and it does show some of the thinking that went into the map (things that got removed, debated etc.).  BTW, ‘head’ is a cluster that comprises some cerebral thoughts, along with things that frankly didn’t fit anywhere else.

Credits for the map belong to yours truly, Richard Watson, Maria Jeansson and Graciela Sainz de la Fuente with academic input provided by Dr Audrey de Nazelle.


Clean air as a fundamental human right

Smog refugees

Natural airflow architects

Air quality activism

Artificial thermal cloud management

Urban Wi-Fi free zones

Google smell maps

Memory enhancement during sleep via diffusers

Use of smell to influence public mood

Street misting to reduce temperatures

Databases of smell landscapes

Rising awareness of indoor air quality

Pollution as a business opportunity

‘Prescription’ of nature to address illnesses

Artificial noses to treat anosmia

Cognitive decline caused by air pollution

‘Open air’ movement

Atmospheric water generators

Socio-economic clean air divide

Clean-air lawsuit on behalf of future generations

Identification of terrorist threats using smell

Pollution harvesting ignites circular economy

CRISPR to increase CO2 adsorption by plants


Solar power generating windows

Artificial moons to replace street lights

Drone blocking around buildings

Artificial clouds

Printing of light using nanoparticles

Augmented reality to visualise pollution

Lasers to monitor air quality

Passenger & delivery drones

Nano-bionic plants to indicate pollution

Smart dust storms

Go away cloud machines*

Paramedic drones

Micro-wind harvesting

Proliferation of low-cost quantum sensors

Dark sky movement

Moss facades turn buildings into air purifiers

Indoor particulate sensing


Fresh air kiosks

Personal nose-plug air filters

Authentic smells movement

Taxation of unnatural smells

Digital scents

Breathable alcohol

Homes with air quality scores

White smells to mask odours

Air quality forecasting using HPC

Use of nootropics to influence productivity

Artificial noses for disease discovery

Artificial nose to treat anosmia.

Fresh air tourism

Rain ‘bombs’ to clean air


Windows that separate fresh air from noise

Open window legislation

Obligatory air-filtering for all buildings

Vaping of fresh air

People ‘snacking’ on fresh air shots

Pollution absorbing clothes

Outsourcing of air quality to private contractors

Air provided by utility companies

Sound ‘seasoning’ of food & drink (cusp of mouth)

Pollution protected pushchairs


Silence as a class issue

Silent fireworks

Use of metamaterials to reduce noise

Narrowcasting of sound

CRISPR for auditory augmentation

Addition of fake noises to silent technologies

Crowd sourced noise pollution maps

Sound sensing proteins

Quiet road surfaces

Conversation cloaking devices

Individual noise taxes

Silent cities movement

Ubiquity of EVs

Increase in noise due to voice interfaces

Sensorial interventions to influence public behaviour

Use of sound to influence public behaviour

The link to the interactive map once again. (click to enlarge and reveal hidden content).

Finally, some of the early scribbles….