Why the ’burbs need to turn down the heat

Summers in Sydney normally roll out like a three-act play. Act 1 is late spring and early December, where there’s a rush to finish a year’s work, get ready for Christmas, shop, juggle the budget, send out cards, refresh the garden, get things set up.

Then in Act 2, Christmas and New Year take centre stage, when the joy of time with family pushes the limits of energy and emotion. Excitement, tension, pleasure, disappointment, laughs, tears: Act 2 usually has them all.

Thank goodness, then, for Act 3, where things are reconciled or packed away, and there’s the remainder of January to refuel and revitalise. This is when Sydney’s summer weather should deliver its magic.

But Act 3 last summer was a disaster and this one’s shaping up the same way. We get belted by heat – and we drag ourselves back to work exhausted. With temperatures reaching into the 40s we are living through Sydney's hottest summer ever.

When Sydney nearly ran out of water in 2006 during probably the worst drought since European settlement, Sydneysiders changed the way they used water. We stopped hosing concrete driveways and flooding lawns with fixed sprinklers.

After the two hottest summers on record, the Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils has begun a campaign called Turn Down the Heat.

WSROC can’t change the weather, but it believes it can take the heat out of Western Sydney’s built environment and change the way we live on hot days.

Our region needs more tree cover, fewer heat-absorbing roofs and concrete surfaces, and more pleasant outdoor places to enjoy summer evenings. There is also the need for more informed ways to help vulnerable groups cope with hot days.

WSROC (Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils) has assembled the three tiers of government, business and community groups, and our region’s best brains – from Western Sydney University, of course – to answer the question “how can we turn down the heat”?

WSROC has uncovered loads of initiatives designed to address urban heat. But much more needs to be done. Like the way we changed our water use in the mid-2000s, we need to get on board. Our days of summer should leave us refreshed, not exhausted.

  • Professor Phillip O’Neill is Director of Western Sydney University’s Centre for Western Sydney


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