How will Edmonton fix the urban heat islands that affect poorer regions?

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Despite being one of the coldest places in Canada, Edmonton must consider how to repair the potentially dangerous “heat islands” that often plague poorer regions as it plans to respond to climate change in future, said a councilman.

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Scientists from the University of Alberta, in research announced last month, have found stark differences in surface temperatures between local urban and rural areas due to human-induced global warming and loss of vegetation. Urban hotspots will become more problematic as global temperatures rise and heat waves – which can have catastrophic consequences – become more frequent in the future. Last year alone, 66 more people than usual in Alberta died after an intense heat wave.

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Ground temperatures in many areas of Edmonton have jumped 6°C to 12°C from rural areas over the past 20 years, researchers have found. Places that are more “built up” with roads, buildings, sidewalks and parking lots, have more concrete and asphalt. These materials absorb heat, release it slowly and maintain high temperatures.

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Areas around the river valley were cooler than others – areas occupied by wealthier Edmontonians. Neighborhoods where Edmontonians with lower socioeconomic status and single-parent households live were warmer.

Scientist and co-author Sandeep Agrawal told The Canadian Press that city planning teams need to consider warm temperatures, not just cold weather, and find ways to preserve trees and other green spaces to mitigate the impacts.

Neighborhood Métis County Ashley Salvador agrees.

“I think there’s a very clear connection between urbanism and the design of our neighborhoods, equity and the urban heat island effect,” she told Postmedia in a recent interview. . “There is also variability depending on the age of a neighborhood. Lots of communities that have large mature trees, you can really feel the difference when traveling between (them).

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Edmonton already has a goal of planting two million new trees.

Salvador said urban heat islands will be part of the discussion for this work. As the city continues to renew the neighborhood, consideration can be given to both preserving existing trees on public and private properties and building more trees and vegetation into the design of the neighborhood, he said. she declared.

“When we talk about planting new trees, you can look at it from many angles, not just sustainability and climate resilience, and the heat island effect, but also livability,” he said. she stated.

“The urban heat island effect, yes, it’s about city ownership and public trees, but it’s also about private trees that also contribute to that urban canopy.”

Salvador is an urban planner by trade. She notes that many mature neighborhoods in Edmonton have more boulevard trees because it was part of the city’s design philosophy that dates back to the 1950s and 60s — a stark contrast to some newer neighborhoods.

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“The neighborhoods weren’t intentionally built with three boulevards, the streets themselves are actually much wider, more in that sort of curvilinear suburban style,” she said. “I think we are now at the point where we realize how much trees add value to our habitability, to our climate resilience. We try to come back to it. »

The addition of new trees and the protection of existing trees are also part of the city plan, a master document intended to guide all aspects of the city’s work. Salvador said this sets the bar high for policies such as building standards and street design guidelines, and ensures they are aligned to help the city achieve that larger vision.

“That’s what we’re doing now, I would say. We are in the phase where we are trying to implement the vision of the city plan in these conversations. »

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City prepares for climate change in Edmonton

The University of Alberta research was funded in part by the City of Edmonton.

As Edmonton’s climate warms, the city’s urban strategist Lindsey Butterfield said understanding the why, where and what of these conditions becomes more urgent, along with solutions.

“That research is going to be really valuable to us and then making those adaptive choices,” she told Postmedia this week.

While the city doesn’t currently have plans to specifically address heat islands, Butterfield said a number of ongoing initiatives will have an impact.

Open-option parking is one. This policy removed on-site parking requirements in the zoning bylaw, meaning fewer large parking lots can be built. More landscape requirements could also be incorporated into zoning rules as the city works to overhaul the bylaw, she said.

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Design and construction standards, planning around the urban canopy and upgrading the river valley are three others.

“Adaptation is not just one thing. It’s really about everything in the city that helps mitigate these impacts of climate change,” Butterfield said.

Buttefield said heat island research is new and the city is still working on unpacking its findings and how to move forward, but it gives it pause.

“How do you build a reconstructable city? How do we redevelop the parts of the city that are not serving our residents as well as they should? ” she says. “It just gives us that data point to see what we need to do differently.”

An update on the city’s work around the urban tree canopy is expected to return to a committee of council early next year.

A public map of heat islands as well as wildfire risk is expected to be released next year, said Chandra Tomaras, the city’s director of environment and climate resilience.

[email protected]

@laurby

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