5 ways to reduce the urban heat island effect

By Cameron Micallef 17 December 2020 | 1 minute read

A reduction in tree foliage on newly developed suburbs is contributing to a rising urban heat island in Australia, which is leading to more extreme weather conditions, an urban planner has revealed.

5 ways to reduce the urban heat island effect

The removal of trees – along with the energy generated in everyday life, including driving to work – creates a natural urban heat island or UHI, where metropolitan areas become warmer than the rural area surrounding it.

Urban areas become significantly warmer than surrounding areas when there is less green cover and more hard surfaces, which absorb, store and radiate heat.

Hatch RobertsDay WA urban designer Peter Ciemitis, together with the consultancy’s WA planner Dan Pearce, pointed out that urban heat islands are leading to extreme temperatures and bushfires which are occurring more frequently year-on-year. 

“There is a growing urgency to mitigate the urban heat island effect, and tree canopies are a vital component to ensure we can reduce temperatures across the country.

“The Black Saturday bushfires in 2009, for example, sadly resulted in 173 deaths. However, many are unaware that 374 deaths occurred due to heat during that same week,” Mr Ciemitis explained. 

“Those deaths were clustered in Melbourne’s northern and western suburbs where there are fewer or no trees at all.”

The pair highlighted that prioritising ways to retain and introduce more green cover across projects also fast-tracks the evolution of new estates, so that they feel more established and homely.

“Designing with liveability in mind will have a positive effect on the community, improve land and property market values, and ensure projects are more sustainable and financially viable,” Mr Pearce said. 

Mr Ciemitis and Mr Pearce shared their five recommendations for increasing urban tree canopies and green spaces:

  1. Retain trees in developments, parks and public spaces: Most modern land development practices favour earthworks, whereby trees and other natural plantations are cleared away to level the land for development. However, planning and design should start with identification of the best trees for retention, then ensuring that these govern the rest of the design process. 
  2. Work closely with councils to minimise tree removals: Local council policy prescribes minimum distances that street trees can be planted from drainage pits, light standards, crossovers and street corners. However, these rules can reduce the number of trees that developers may have otherwise planned to establish. Developers could communicate with local councils to determine ways to vary standards to prioritise tree retention.
  3. Plan more ‘destination parks’: With developers favouring apartments over single-occupancy homes, the average home lot size has declined by 16 per cent since 2009. Shrinking backyards require an increase in the number of ‘community backyards’ in the form of high-quality community green spaces and neighbourhood parks.
  4. Involve residents to increase urban canopy in neighbourhoods: Planting trees should be a community-wide endeavour to ensure residents are well informed and aware of the importance of urban canopy in their neighbourhoods.
  5. Take advantage of government initiatives to increase tree cover: Local governments across the country are implementing initiatives to increase tree cover and green spaces. For instance, the NSW government plans to increase tree canopy across Greater Sydney to 40 per cent by 2030 and is providing funding to local councils to plant trees in public spaces, streets and parks. In WA, the state government recently published its draft Medium Density Code, which emphasises the role of gardens and deep root zones for tree planting on development sites.

About the author

Cameron Micallef

Cameron is a journalist for Momentum Media's nestegg and Smart Property Investment. He enjoys giving Aussies practical financial tips and tricks to help grow their wealth and achieve financial independence. As a self-confessed finance nerd, Cameron enjoys chatting with industry experts and commentators to leverage their insights to grow your... Read more

5 ways to reduce the urban heat island effect
5 ways to reduce the urban heat island effect
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