Urban heat and community resilience – where the environmental meets the social

By Jen Guice, Associate Director, Cred Consulting

by Jen Guice, Associate Director, Cred Consulting

March, 2022

It’s hard to remember life before lockdowns, face masks and endless Zoom meetings, but it wasn’t long ago that I was on the other side of the world watching the local news from a small city in the USA witnessing Australia’s fiery summer. On the 4th of January 2020 the website, ‘World Weather Today’ reported that the top 10 hottest places in the world were in Australia. The hottest place on earth at that time was Penrith, in Western Sydney.

I wasn’t surprised though. It’s been 5 years since I wrote the “Cooling the City” Strategy for Penrith City Council. At the time I was writing the strategy, in 2014 the hottest days on average across the whole of Sydney were recorded at the Penrith Lakes weather station, with the highest temperature recorded that year being 44.9 degrees Celsius.

Since then, Western Sydney has continued to break summer heat records with Penrith reaching a sweltering 48.9 degrees Celsius this past summer. That’s a 4 degree increase in 6 years. This trajectory is alarming regardless of location. It is particularly so given the higher vulnerability to heat experienced in parts of Western Sydney, and the increased residential and infrastructure development projects planned for the area.

Extreme heat is a serious threat to communities. Over the past 100 years, extreme heat events have killed more Australians than any other natural hazard. Urban heat, and the associated elevated daytime temperatures, reduced night-time cooling and higher air pollution, has significant health and wellbeing impacts. This is particularly so for older residents who may also become more socially isolated for fear of leaving home during extreme heat.

Thanks to Cred Consulting who value people first planning, I have been able to continue my work in the area of urban heat. We recently completed an urban heat study for the City of Canterbury Bankstown. This study will provide Council with an evidence base around urban heat impacts with a focus on community heat vulnerability and resilience as well as possible actions to mitigate the adverse impacts of heat across the Local Government Area.

Like Penrith, the City of Canterbury-Bankstown experiences high heat right across its area, so understanding where and how to prioritise action so that efforts are targeted, is important strategic planning for the Council.

The Greater Sydney Commission’s Metropolis of Three Cities Objective 38 identifies that the planning of great places and liveable neighbourhoods needs to consider how the urban heat island effect can be mitigated, particularly in areas with a higher proportion of vulnerable people. The City of Canterbury Bankstown is characterised by a highly culturally and socially diverse community with a higher heat-vulnerable population compared to its fellow Southern Sydney Region of Councils (SSROC) and to Greater Sydney (See graphic below). Understanding this will help Council more effectively target their actions spatially and socially to support heat resilience for those who are most at risk.

One of the interesting findings from the work highlighted the existing vulnerability in the Sydenham to Bankstown Corridor, which is the focus of NSW Government-led renewal and change. Significant development is proposed within walking distance of proposed metro stations along the corridor. Future growth and increased density within the corridor are likely to further compound heat vulnerability, making this the clearest priority area for future cooling strategies and building heat resilience, and a real opportunity for collaboration across the tiers of Government.

City of Canterbury Bankstown are already undertaking a suite of exciting projects that will have co-benefits for mitigating urban heat. This additional piece of evidence with suggested mitigating actions, compiled by Cred will help support the continuation of this in a targeted way that will ensure good social outcomes.