Mitigating climate change and creating resilient communities that can withstand the changing climate is now top of mind for governments, urban planners and public health professionals. Four out of five people in Canada live in urban areas, which means that the vast majority face the growing risks that climate change is bringing to our cities and towns.
The way that cities are designed and built affects both, the volume of greenhouse gases that are released into the atmosphere, and the ways that the changing climate can affect human health. Communities that foster walking, cycling and the use of public transit reduce the vehicle kilometers travelled (VKT) and the greenhouse gases that are emitted, while those built solely around cars increase VKT and greenhouse gas emissions that are fueling climate change.
The design of our communities can also amplify the negative impacts of climate change on human health, infrastructure and property, or ameliorate those impacts and make our communities more resilient to change. For example, communities with a lot of paved areas, few shade-giving trees, and heat-absorbing building materials can make heat waves hotter and more dangerous for people, while communities with lots of green space, trees and reflective surfaces can mitigate the impacts of higher temperatures.
The way cities are built can make hot days even hotter. A lot of paved areas, no shade-giving trees, heat generated by cooling units, and some kinds of building materials can contribute to higher temperatures in town compared to suburbs and rural areas.
Traffic in cities creates air pollution, and extra heat can make pollution levels even higher in downtown areas compared to cold days. This means higher risks of heat-related hospitalizations and deaths.