Hot time, summer in the city

Global warming will make our cities more unliveable, unless urban officials modify their emergency plans and officials amend bylaws

TORONTO, Ont. Oct. 26, 2016/ Troy Media/ – The global warming trend will allow for longer growing seasons in some locations, reduced snow removal budgets elsewhere and the sale of parkas should go down. But there will also be ill effects.

We forget some of the accommodations we’ll have to make, but the writers of Boston’s civic emergency plan don’t miss much. For example, they suggest modifying work schedules for employees and contractors. A 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. shift would miss the hottest part of the day – about mid-afternoon. And a lunch break at the end of the shift might be attractive to many workers, who could then leave for home at 2 p.m.

Boston planners are also thinking about the use of more spray mists at outdoor events. This will cool off concertgoers and others, but not soak their clothes. More water stations can be hooked up to fire hydrants, too.

Boston officials note that they have 11 days per year with temperatures in excess of 90F (32C). We’ve all experienced long, hot stretches. We stay in the air conditioning, curtail shopping and don’t jog. But Boston officials estimate that the number of such super-heated days could triple to 30 a year by the end of the century. It’s much more difficult to modify a schedule to get through a whole month of heat days.

Many of us also forget that heat in cities means poor air quality. Poor air is really bad for people with asthma, the elderly, and those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and other respiratory ailments. Boston officials estimate that poor air quality could quadruple with global warming.

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Heat is more trouble than you might think. More people die in Florida because of the heat than because of hurricanes and tornadoes combined. The emergency plan in Louisville, Ky., notes that excessive heat claims an average of 162 lives per year. Hurricanes kills 117, floods 65, tornadoes 62 and lightning 48. Imagine when thousands are dying per year because of heat.

Boston’s plan notes how heat affects crime. Crime in the streets and in retail shops goes down, perhaps because people are staying home. But domestic violence goes up and we have to prepare for this. Even if those people stuck at home don’t engage in violence, there’s still trouble. A more sedentary lifestyle can lead to more diabetes and heart disease.

Then there will be the increase in mosquito-borne diseases such as West Nile.

Mists and shift work are good, but what about the most vulnerable – the elderly in non-air-conditioned housing? If there isn’t a shopping mall nearby, it would be nice of neighbourhood theatre owners to hand out free movie tickets. This could even be automatic when the temperature goes above 32C. For those with mobility challenges, a city could deploy air conditioned transit buses or highway coaches. These could be parked in disadvantaged neighbourhoods and used to cool 60 or so passengers comfortably. If the coach had movies, even better.

And while we’re thinking creatively about how both the public and private sectors can address the heat issue, let’s also think of spreading around the cost of helping our fellow citizens. Residential building developers and landlords could be required to have one common room air-conditioned to 24C (75F) when outside temperatures rise to 32C. A bylaw could require existing buildings to be retrofitted if they have suitable party rooms.

Schools with air conditioning could be required to let in grandparents for the day – that’s would probably be a welcome visit for the kids, too.

Millions of people already live safely in the kind of climate that may be coming our way. We can, too, with a little thoughtful planning.

Troy Media columnist Dr. Allan Bonner has consulted on some of the major planning and public policy issues of our time on five continents over 25 years. He loves cities and his next book will be titled Safer Cities. Allan is included in Troy Media’s Unlimited Access subscription plan.

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