“My health began to suffer:” Sue’s experience living in a hot suburb

Sue is a Moonee Ponds local, a suburb in Melbourne’s inner city. Before moving to Moonee Ponds, she lived in a dangerously hot rental home with no insulation, and the heat ended up making her sick. Now, she lives in a cool home that protects her from the heat, but she is still worried about living in a suburb that becomes dangerously hot during summer, and she is scared for her community and how they will manage to stay safe. With an El Niño summer approaching, Sue is speaking out about the inadequate tree cover, shade and shelter in her area and what this means for her community.

“Four years ago, I was renting a unit in Coburg with no insulation. During a heatwave it became a dark cave-like dwelling as I closed all the blinds to try to keep the heat out. The landlord, who was charging me more than half my income in rent, refused to buy an aircon. The result was that my health began to suffer. 

Luckily, I was rescued from this situation by the offer of an apartment in a high-rise complex with a rent that was 30% of my income under the National Rental Affordability Scheme.”

Now, Sue lives in a high rise building in Moonee Ponds, and her quality of life has improved because she’s able to keep cool in her home during the hot summer months.

View from Sue’s apartment

“The complex has a deal with Origin Energy so that our gas and electricity comes at a special rate. There are solar panels which help pay for  the gas water heating. Inside my flat there is an induction cooktop and a reverse cycle aircon so only the water uses gas.

Reverse cycle aircon in Sue’s apartment

My utility bills are even lower because I am insulated on all four sides by the other apartments and my small balcony is north facing. The windows are also double glazed. This means I’m cool in summer and warm in winter. I use the reverse cycle sparingly but still live in a place with a comfortable room temperature.

Contrast all this with the report of residents in the public housing blocks. Sweltering Cities has documented people’s stories of surviving through the hot summer in high rise public housing buildings and recently the ABC had a report on how the Victorian government had failed to deliver on the promise of air conditioners to public housing tenants.

Sue is able to keep cool in her home, but she is worried how her community of Moonee Ponds will deal with the dangerously hot summers to come.

“We have been warned to expect a sweltering summer and suburbs like Moonee Ponds with its concentration of high rise apartments and streets devoid of trees will force people to stay in their cars or their houses.

There is a sad lack of greenery in Moonee Ponds. The local streets have few tree canopies in contrast to many of the tree lined streets in leafier suburbs such as Clifton Hill and Carlton. 

Aerial photo of the centre of Moonee Ponds (2023)

Aerial photo Moonee Ponds showing the densely built suburb (2023)

The Moonee Ponds landscape is densely built over and only has 12-20% of tree canopy. Queens Park provides a welcome green space in Moonee Ponds but there is a sad lack of greenery in the rest of the suburb. Many of the streets are surrounded by high rise apartments, creating a wind tunnel and no shelter from the heat.

The Moonee Valley City Council aims to increase the tree canopy in Moonee Ponds to 25% by 2030 and 30% by 2040 but it’s unclear how much progress is being made towards these goals.

In busy parts of the suburb, there is no protection from sun or wind. There is a precinct near a shopping centre with attractive brick lined beds planted with low level plants and small trees. The problem is that they provide barely any shade. Locals say the this is a prime example of the attempt to make a community space without really thinking about the environmental factors that make it fit for purpose. 

The residential streets around Moonee Ponds have houses with gardens and there is evidence of fairly young small trees growing on the footpaths, which are a sign that there is an attempt happening to provide more shelter during hot weather. 

“There is an acute housing shortage in Victoria and a shortage of housing land in the inner suburbs. High density housing can respond to this housing need. I do feel conflicted about the environmental and aesthetic impacts of these towering blocks but they have provided me with convenient and energy efficient housing. The answer could be to look at more sustainable buildings that have less impact on the outside temperature of our cities.” says Sue.

Thanks to Logan from Moonee Valley Sustainability for information on tree density.

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