February 2022 Melbourne Online Community Meeting

By Elyse Cunningham, Sweltering Cities Community Organiser, Melbourne 

Last Tuesday night, the 22nd of Feb, Sweltering Cities held our first 2022 Melbourne community meeting online with over 30 attendees. we heard from some powerful key speakers followed by a broad insightful discussion of extreme heat impacts across Melbourne.

Our first speaker was Chris who has lived in Sunshine for 14 years. She spoke about the physical effects that heat has on her body, including muscle pains and heat rash, which ends up being detrimental to her mental health as she is unable to go for walks outside. As this article shows, there is not enough tree cover in much of Melbourne’s West. Chris also spoke of the beautiful gum trees that used to line her street which were torn down and replaced with ornamental pear trees that don’t provide any shade at all.  

On top of this, Non-natives require more water, so it is more wasteful to maintain those trees. In Sunshine at the shops today, she saw only two groups of people, both of which were huddled under trees that had been concreted right to the trunk. “Heat isolates people”, she says, “especially the most vulnerable”, although Chris and her elderly mother can walk down to Kororoit Creek where there has been good green landscaping by Friends of Kororoit Creek, even the 6-7 minute walk can be difficult in the heat. 

Our next speaker was Margareta Windisch; a Western suburbs resident, and social worker, who is completing her PhD research on heatwaves and gendered social vulnerability.

Margareta has observed how this issue has become a lot more prominent over the last few years, and that there needs to be more heat shelters, including at universities. She referred to an article in the Lancet which shows that heat wave deaths are significantly under reported.

Urbanisation will continue and the problem of hot cities will grow globally, with access to cooling becoming a matter of life and death. In urban environments, heat overnight is a huge health issue, and air con units only exacerbate the problem by heating up outside areas. 

Margareta also stressed that heat waves are a political issue, the least responsible are the most impacted. Advice from authorities is always to go somewhere cool, but public spaces become privatised and access is limited, and there is no funding for heatwaves. 

Margareta is especially interested in how older women, who rent and/or live in public housing, are dealing with hot weather and their ability to access cooling. 

for more information you can contact Margareta on 9925 3051 or via email at margareta.windisch@student.rmit.edu.au

Andrea from Walk on Moreland and Climate Action Moreland kicked off the discussion. She recalled the Cooling Communities study by the Australian Energy Foundation (F.K.A Moreland Energy Foundation), which overwhelmingly found that the ability to cool without AC comes down to cross-ventilation, and that we are “still building hot boxes in which people are locked into using air conditioning”. 

This was backed up by a comment from Katherine who highlighted that there needs to be more education for homeowners. 

Liam from the Brotherhood of St Laurence told the group that natHERS has a bias for black roofs within their 6 star energy rating software for houses. Because Melbourne is predominantly a winter heating climate, it gives you an advantage if you have a dark roof as you need less heating and measured against historical standards homes are projected to have slightly better energy gain throughout that time of year. This is a recognised problem within the industry, however the government is slow to move on these things as energy policy has been slow to move 

Andrea from the Centre for Just Places, Jesuit Social Services, reiterated that the notion of social isolation is a huge problem, and it relates also to how we plan our spaces. 

For older people or people in public housing there needs to be low cost or free spaces that are cool spaces. 

Afterwards, we heard from Jocelyn, who has been involved with Werribee River Association. She touched back on the black roofs situation, saying she heard they are looking to make changes to natHERS and ask whether we can do anything to support or push certain changes to make housing better? Emma Bacon of Sweltering Cities answered that the National Construction Code, which are the federal standards for all buildings, is currently being reviewed and that Sweltering Cities along with Renew are working on this issue. 

Next we heard from Kyle who addressed the regional differences in how heat impacts peoples lives, and touched back on the issues of inequality when it comes to heat, as generally people from lower socio-economic and disadvantaged backgrounds are forced to move out of cities and into peripheries where there is greater risk of bushfires. 

“We need legislation for housing rather than just national standards because developers won’t do it alone”. Kyle’s final point was the lack of recognition of the systemic nature of this issue, and that it is looked at as an individual issue, rather than states and territories having structurally retreated from the provision of social and public housing. 

We then heard from Paula, the founder of Wyndham Wildlife Gardens who talked about the endemic rise of plastic grass over real grass that is occurring in the West. Synthetic turfs can exacerbate the urban heat island effect and get extremely hot on warm days. 

Finally we heard from Wildaliz from TreeChange who look at tech and science solutions, and citizen community science projects to help design programs for addressing urban heat. Their email is info@projecttreecharge.com if you have ideas for collaboration on urban heat climate adaptation citizen science. 

Thank you to everyone who attended the meeting. We’re excited to continue working with this knowledgeable and passionate community. 

Here are some more links that were shared over the course of the discussion: 

The effects of heat on residents of Melbourne’s age 55+ public housing towers, Shared by Sweltering Cities

Cooling and Greening Melbourne Interactive Map shared by John Englart from Climate Action Moreland

Tree planting in Melbourne’s west, shared by Liam Cranley, Brotherhood of St Laurence’s energy equity and climate change team. 

Recent changes to the Victoria Planning Provisions (which appear to address apartment cross ventilation), Shared by Kath 

School Microclimates, shared by John Englart 

Melbourne City’s cool routes mapping tool, Shared by John Englart, 

Walden 7 architecture project, Shared by Bernie Barrett, from Healthy Homes for Renters

Google’s environmental insights explorer, shared by Glenn 

Literature review on the Harms of synthetic turf, Written and shared by John Englart 

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