thermometer showing urban heat

Western Sydney has introduced a heat resilience rating tool called Cool Suburbs designed to inform decision-making across the development process. 

The hottest place on Earth in 2020 was the western Sydney suburb of Penrith, which saw temperatures climbing to a sizzling 48.9 Celsius – and staying over 40 for almost a week straight. 

With Sydney’s west year on year becoming too hot for people to live in, how can urban planners and developers reduce the risk of heat waves?

Enter Cool Suburbs: a rating and assessment tool for building heat resilience in urban planning and development.

The Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils (WSROC) last month launched Australia’s first rating and assessment tool for heat, which has been developed over two years in partnership with Resilient Sydney and the Greater Sydney Commission. It is part of a suite of WSROC projects aimed at addressing urban heat under the Turn Down the Heat Strategy

The tool can be used to inform decision-making across the development process from precinct master plans to lot-scale design considerations. 

To assess the heat resilience delivered by urban designs at various development scales, the system was developed by an expert panel of academics from leading universities who synthesised urban heat science into one place, and then piloted in September 2021. 

The framework identifies contributors to urban heat – such as shading, open space and water use. Image: WSROC

“Time and time again, heat has been identified as Sydney’s number one natural hazard risk with major impacts for public health, essential infrastructure, economy, and the environment,” WSROC president Barry Calvert said. 

“The Cool Suburbs Tool is the first comprehensive place-based rating system to assess the heat resilience delivered by urban designs at various development scales – from lot to community masterplan.

How does it work? 

The tool sets out a broad range of measures to guide place-based urban heat resilience, identifying specific measures that should be considered at different stages of the development process for existing, changing, and new suburbs. 

Cool Suburbs outlines community heat resilience measures including provision of drinking water, backup power for community hubs, and community information and signage.

A rating system provides a score measuring the urban heat resilience of the development.

In order to maximise urban cooling in design, urban designers need clear guidance for how to achieve the best possible orientation, airflow, permeability, shading, open space, and water use.

WSROC hopes this is an easy-to-use tool to put heat resilience in the hands of both government and industry.

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