girl Playing in the Water Fountain

As Penrith residents seek relief from the heat wherever they can find it, the city’s council is holding a masterclass to investigate how to cool its urban spaces.

Four days into the new year, the temperature in Penrith soared to an almost unimaginable 48.9 degrees Celsius, making it the hottest day in Greater Sydney since records began and, on that day, making Penrith one of the hottest places on earth.

In the face of the latest blisteringly hot summer to strike Western Sydney, Penrith Council is bringing together leading planners, developers and other professionals working in the built environment to explore initiatives to create cooler urban spaces and to present the business case for greener development.

The all-day Cooling the City Masterclass, on 18 February, will include national and international perspectives and present a number of case studies and new research about urban heat mitigation.

Council hopes the event will raise awareness among developers and the New South Wales government, and highlight that bespoke solutions, rather than the state’s one-size-fits-all planning system, are needed to tackle the problem, says Penrith Council’s General Manager Warwick Winn.

“We have a real challenge here in Western Sydney,” says Winn. “More people are coming out here and this business-as-usual model for new developments won’t work.”

“What we are trying to do with the masterclass is bring together all the stakeholders for a critical discussion. We can start pressing some buttons to get practical solutions to what is a pretty complex problem.”

Penrith Council has already started making the city more liveable by planting more trees and reviving its tree nursery, planning a large city park that will help cool Penrith’s CBD, and by putting greater emphasis on water-sensitive urban design, street shading, and the use of cool materials in its own developments.

It has also partnered with Western Sydney University to collect detailed temperature data from 120 heat sensors installed across the local government area that will help pinpoint the most affected areas.

Penrith Mayor, Ross Fowler OAM, says “the masterclass was developed as a result of concerns arising from community feedback about the impact of urban heat on Penrith’s liveability”.

“We know it’s hot in Penrith during summer and only set to get hotter,” he says.

It is important to have data and evidence to back up the case for change when talking to developers, says Winn.

“It is really important, in terms of building confidence with developers, because the last thing they want to do is build costs into a building process that makes no difference. It is about showing them that if they do certain things, it will have a positive outcome, and showing them the evidence to prove it.”

He says an evidence-based approach can also help attract state and federal government funding.

Dr Josh Byrne of ABC Gardening Australia fame, whose company, Josh Byrne & Associates, has worked on several cutting-edge developments in Perth that have addressed urban heat, is one of the masterclass presenters.

Byrne says successful heat mitigation must be done on a precinct and district scale.

“We have to move away from an ad hoc approach, small-scale and single lot subdivisions which work in isolation,” he says.

Solutions include building smaller homes to allow more room for trees on suburban blocks, planting as many trees as possible on publicly-owned land, and providing incentives for home owners to plant trees. Clever choice of building and paving materials that minimise heat absorption can also make a difference.

Byrne says we must design residential precincts to act like “sponges” to direct storm water into the soil to support transpiring vegetation.  In dry periods, this needs to be supplemented with adequate irrigation, using recycled water where possible.

“Houses need to be built to be heat resilient to offer people protection during extreme events,” he says.

“We are all facing the same planning challenges and lack of guidance and regulatory rigour to support an ideal outcome, which is why these conversations are so important.”

Other speakers at the masterclass include Sustainability Advisor at Frasers Property Australia, Sean Kahn; Western Sydney University Assistant Vice-Chancellor, Dr Andy Marks; the Environment Commissioner for the Greater Sydney Commission, Rod Simpson; University of Utah’s Dr Diane Pataki; Beck Dawson from Resilient Sydney; Western Sydney University’s Senior Research Fellow, Dr Sebastian Pfautsch; CSIRO’s Senior Principal Research Scientist Dr Simon Toze; and Steve Hartley from the NSW Department of Planning.

The event will be held at Penrith’s Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre on 18 February, 2020. See website for more information about the event and to book.

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  1. Last Year Penrith Council cut down 30 plus year old trees down its main street and St Mary’s main street due to foot path damage. This is a very short sighted policy and has increased the heat incredibly. The removal of these trees was heart breaking to see and so short sighted. It made me sooooooo angry.