Neighbourhood of no trees, black roads, black roofs

06 Dec 2023


In Australian suburbs, the surge of townhouse and apartment developments coupled with the proliferation of paved surfaces has given rise to the urban heat island effect. This phenomenon triggers extreme heat and discomfort for residents, leading to potential health problems, increased energy consumption, and strain on the electricity grid. So, how can green infrastructure combat the urban heat island effect, fostering healthier and more liveable urban environments.

Decoding the Urban Heat Island Effect

The urban heat island effect is a phenomenon where built-up areas register higher average temperatures than their rural counterparts. The culprits? Large expanses of non-green surfaces like building roofs, paved areas, and sparse vegetation. These surfaces absorb and retain more heat than natural land surfaces, causing a spike in air temperatures.

The Power of Green Infrastructure

Investing in green infrastructure can significantly mitigate the urban heat island effect while delivering a host of benefits to urban landscapes. Think green roofs, vertical gardens, street trees, and urban parks that not only offer shade and cooler temperatures but also enhance air quality and biodiversity. Furthermore, green infrastructure curtails energy consumption and peak demand on the electricity grid and bolsters stormwater management.

A Success Story: Melbourne Water's 'Urban Cooling Precincts'

Melbourne Water has pioneered an 'Urban Cooling Precincts' project to combat urban heat in redevelopment areas. The project capitalizes on green infrastructure, employing green roofs, water-sensitive urban design, and street tree planting to provide shelter and reduce heat gain. The result? A substantial drop in surface temperatures, translating into cooler, more liveable spaces for communities.

Forging Resilient Urban Communities Through Engagement

Communities play a pivotal role in resilient urban development. To this end, community programs like 'Mt. Resilience' have been rolled out in Australia to boost community participation in local resilience initiatives. The program nurtures community connection and resilience to natural disasters like bushfires and storms. It also underscores the importance of green infrastructure through garden design workshops that foster community involvement and collaboration.

The Road Ahead: Green Infrastructure in Australian Suburbs

Prioritizing the implementation of green infrastructure in Australian suburbs is crucial to counteracting the urban heat island effect. Local councils and governments need to join forces to put effective policies and strategies into place that prioritize green infrastructure in urban redevelopment plans. Moreover, community engagement and education are vital to ensuring community buy-in for the implementation of green infrastructure.

Embrace the Power of Resilience Against Extreme Heat

In the face of both natural (extreme heat) and human-induced (urban heat) hazards, a resilient approach is not just an option—it's a necessity. Here's how we can effectively rise to this challenge:

  1. Awareness: First things first, let's get familiar with our surroundings. What are the physical conditions in the area? How vulnerable are residents and our urban infrastructure to heat? Asking these questions helps us understand the battlefield.
  2. Reduce: Let's talk about lowering those average ambient temperatures in our built environment. Yes, it's a tall order, but every degree counts. Whether it's combating climate change or tackling urban heat islands, we're all in!
  3. Adapt: Realistically, we can only reduce city-scale temperatures by about 2°C. But that doesn’t mean we should give up. Instead, we need to help people thrive in hotter conditions and survive heatwaves. And guess what? At smaller scales, like within streets, parks, or courtyards, we can actually reduce temperatures to a much greater degree.
  4. Respond: Even with all these efforts, there will still be residual heat-related risk during extreme heat events. That's why our developments should be designed to support preparedness and response measures, especially for communities most at risk. Because when the going gets hot, the hot get going.

Green infrastructure holds the key to tackling the urban heat island effect and creating healthier, more liveable urban environments. It's a team effort - local councils, governments, and communities must work in concert to drive this forward. By crafting innovative green spaces through urban design and bolstering community engagement, we can combat the urban heat island effect and build more resilient and sustainable Australian suburbs. So let's come together as a community to create greener, healthier, and more liveable urban environments in our cherished cities.