Why we love shade

Shade plays an important role in minimising the Urban Heat Island Effect and reducing heat related diseases. Higher tree cover means lower temperatures on the ground on hot days, as well as sun protection for people as we walk We believe that shade needs to be a much higher priority when planning our new developments and maintaining tree cover in our older suburbs. In this post we’ve collected some information from great organisations working on improving shade, as well as why we think shade should be a bigger part of the urban planning conversation.

Why is shade important for our health?

Lack of shade and exposure to the sun can cause a variety of health problems including skin and eye damage, dehydration and heat stroke. The majority of skin cancers are caused by exposure to the sun. In Australia, 80% of the cancers diagnosed each year are skin cancer.

The major cause of skin cancer is exposure to UV radiation from the sun. With good protection against UV radiation, most cases of skin cancer can be prevented.

Cancer Council NSW

Protecting yourself from sun damage is key, but it’s also a lot harder if you live in a hot suburb with treeless, baking streets. Improving shade on our streets and in parks and playgrounds will reduce skin damage and reduce our risk of skin cancer.

Shade has health, environmental and economic benefits that can be taken into consideration when designing and creating safe and healthy spaces in our communities. These are just some of the benefits that the Cancer Council NSW have identified:

Health benefits

  • Reduces UV exposure and helps prevent skin cancer
  • Improves thermal comfort in times of heat
  • Improves mental health and wellbeing

Environmental benefits

  • Reduces build-up of heat in urban areas
  • Reduces air pollution
  • Reduces water evaporation, soil erosion and stormwater run-off
  • Reduces atmospheric carbon
  • Maintains animal habitat and biodiversity

Social and economic benefits

  • Improves social and community connection
  • Reduces neighbourhood crime
  • Better placemaking
  • Reduces socioeconomic and health inequities
  • Increases land and property value
  • Reduces energy usage and costs

What is good shade?

Shade can be natural, (canopy trees), or built, (stand-alone, portable or add-on structures), and helps to reduce the amount of heat absorbed by surfaces like concrete and asphalt. When the sun’s rays hit these surfaces, they are absorbed and re-radiated as heat, which can contribute to higher temperatures in urban areas. Shade can help to reduce the amount of heat absorbed by these surfaces, as well as the temperature of the surrounding air.

Shade is one of the easiest ways to protect against UV radiation. Good-quality shade can reduce UV exposure by up to 75%.

Cancer Council NSW

Unfortunately, the way we design and build new suburbs doesn’t prioritise shade. Some new suburbs have no room for street trees at all, just vast fields of bitumen and concrete. Lower tree cover in areas like Western Sydney and Western Melbourne puts residents at risk of sun damage that will only increase as our summers get longer and hotter.

Our work

Sweltering Cities supporters and community members around the country have told us how the lack of shade stops them from leaving the house or enjoying time outside on hot summer days. Our 2022 Summer Survey found that 78.8% of people are avoiding walking on hot days. Here’s a couple of comments from the survey:

“The heat prevents me from taking part in activities. I avoid direct sunlight, always need to know there’s shade or cooling nearby” – Wendy

Australia has extreme UV danger and the government does not prioritise shade. It’s dangerous and irresponsible.” – Ash

Starting in 2022 our Busted Bus Stops campaign highlighted the lack of bus shelters available to people waiting for buses in our hottest suburbs. The new NSW state government can make it a priority to provide funding for more shelters in these areas. People shouldn’t have to risk sun burn, dehydration, or heat stroke to catch a bus.

Photo of a bus stop
Minchinbury: nowhere in sight to escape the heat.

Other organisations leading the way on shading our cities

Queensland Walks, a community-based membership organisation and volunteer group set up to improve conditions for walking in Queensland, is advocating for more shade. In their words:

The City of Melbourne council has identified which of their streets have shade and are cooler on hot days. They’ve shared this information in an interactive map that helps people plan safer trips on hot days. You can see the tool here.

The City of Melbourne’s Chief Heat Officer Tiffany Crawford say “‘If you’re out and about in the city – make use of Cool Routes – our interactive map that helps you find a cool place in Melbourne to spend time in on hot days, where our free water fountains are located and where there are trees providing shade.’

We thank Cancer Council NSW for providing a lot of the information in this post. If you’d like to know more about this important subject you can find further information on their website here:

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