Urban Heat a Hot Topic

Words by Pranav Harish, Erin O’Mara, Madeleine Paradise and Alex Jacob

Oh, we hardy Westies, we can brave the heat, this is what we’ve always been doing,” laughs Judith Bruinsma, Project Coordinator of Turn Down the Heat. But, she says, there is a great danger in this attitude – as individuals, communities, and the environment are at health risk as urban heat continues to rise in Sydney’s west.

The Western Sydney Organisation of Councils (WSROC), represents eight local councils trying to tackle this problem of urban heat through their initiative ‘Turn Down the Heat’. The initiative is a collaboration of stakeholders sharing information and perspectives, as well as looking at opportunities to tackle urban heat in the city.

“Western Sydney sits in a basin...bordered by mountains and high rises… which means it doesn’t get the natural sea breezes from the east”, explains Bruinsma.

With guidance from Turn Down the Heat, local governments have already begun to implement small measures to address the heat problem in the western suburbs, including educational programs, tree planting programs, and improving access to drinking water.

However, in order to successfully “turn down the heat”, Bruinsma says, “all levels of government, all industry sectors, and … the community must work together to implement strategies and government policies to reduce urban heat and its impacts within Sydney’s west.”

Turn Down the Heat has received great support through organisations and partnerships that have assisted the initiative's development – including Western Sydney Local Health District, NSW Government Architects, and The Greater Sydney Commission. These partners are “steering committee members that are … the strategic brains behind all of this, [whereas] WSROC’s role is bringing people together and sharing that information,” explains Bruinsma. “These partnerships are crucial for ensuring the initiative’s growth and success.”

As a result, a five-year action plan has been developed. The first target of the plan is to “increase collaboration and investment across all … different sectors” explains Bruinsma.

“The second target is to reduce ambient temperatures across Western Sydney by 1.5 degrees”.

The third target is a zero net increase in net economic impacts of heatwave is and the fourth target is a zero net increase in morbidity and mortality impacts of heatwaves by 2023.

These goals are ambitious. But the initiative remains driven by cooperation and collaboration. As Western Sydney continues to grow and expand, Bruinsma stresses the importance of the community being on board in mitigating the risks of urban heat. She commends the NSW state government making the issue a priority and hopes it can become a priority across all areas of government dealing with environmental policy including more cross-sector collaboration.

A key role for Turn Down the Heat is advocacy and education. The initiative is increasing awareness of extreme heat events and generating policy and community discussion on urban heat. Bruinsma says that successful information sharing is a pathway to progressive action. It has also focused on fostering greater community support to combat extreme heat. The way individuals manage extreme heat in urban areas is critical to minimising this global issue. Small modifications to houses can have a significant impact on urban heat, for example, the use of block shading. On days of extreme heat, excessive air-conditioning use across a city can cause logistical issues by overloading power-grids.

Western Sydney is tenacious. It’s one of the qualities that makes this place unique, and Bruinsma says there is tough mentality and attitude towards heat. But in times of global warming, more community awareness and collaboration on the impacts of urban heat is crucial to facilitating environmental sustainability in our global city.

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