Greenness, Public Health and Adapting to Climate Change | November 4th | 2021


This summer was one of the hottest on record – especially in Canadian cities – and the accelerating rate of climate change means future summers will be hotter for longer, leading to increased heat-related deaths and health issues. By the middle of the century, the number of days over 30℃ will double in Canada. One of the key ways cities can respond to climate change and mitigate the effects of extreme heat in cities and promote better health is to create more green space, which cools the air and promotes better physical and mental health.

This webinar will:

  1. Review the physical and mental health impacts of green space
  2. Discuss how green space can help cities adapt to the effects of climate change
  3. Explore policies and investments cities could enact to accelerate the expansion of green space


About the speaker:

Matilda van den Bosch is an Associated Researcher at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health in Spain and an Adjunct Professor at the University of British Columbia.

She investigates how environmental exposures, for example urban green spaces, can influence various aspects of human health and how we can create healthier cities.

Activities in her lab include regulating urban ecosystem services, such as heat reduction with an impact on heat related morbidity and mortality, as well as cultural services from urban nature, for example increased physical activity and stress recovery. Much of the research focuses on linkages between various types of land-use data and health mediators or outcomes. Another project is looking at mental health impacts of deforestation in low-and middle income countries.

As co-leader of the greenness team within the Canadian Urban Environmental Health Research Consortium (CANUE) she is part of a team developing greenness metrics across Canada for linking to various health cohorts.



Urban planners are working toward creating ‘complete neighbourhoods’ by making sure communities have a mix of housing, shopping, parks, safe cycling lanes and corridors, and bus routes to work locations.
Visit your city, municipal or regional district website or office to find out about current and future guidelines for designing your community, and for opportunities to tell local planners about your ideas and priorities for your neighbourhood.

Find out more about what makes a neighbourhood healthy

  • Ask for connected pathways, sidewalks, cycling lanes, bus services, and support mixed use/higher density zoning.


  • Ask for more trees and plants along streets, and increase the number of parks and garden spaces.

  • Ask about your community plans for adapting to climate change and lowering greenhouse gas emissions.

  • Ask about plans to phase out wood burning fireplaces and backyard burning of branches if this is allowed in your municipality.

  • Ask for development setbacks near busy roads and support cycling lanes and vehicle restricted areas to reduce transportation pollution.




The way cities and suburbs are designed has a big impact on how much greenhouse gases are emitted, but did you know urban design also impacts the temperature and air quality in your neighbourhood?

  • When more people walk, cycle, take the bus and car pool, greenhouse emissions go down.

  • Trees, parks, lakes and other water bodies have a cooling affect on local temperature. Trees provide shade and public swimming areas help people stay cool during heat waves.

  • When cities are designed to make it easy for cars and trucks to get around, there are a lot of paved areas that make it even hotter, and more greenhouse gas emissions.

  • The transportation sector is responsible for almost 25% of the annual greenhouse gases produced in Canada. Passenger cars and trucks produce almost 50% of the transportation sector emissions. If we walk, cycle, or take public transportation instead of driving, greenhouse gas emissions will go down, and air pollution will get better.



The Active Living Environment score measures how well your neighbourhood is designed to promote an active lifestyle. There are more opportunities to be active in neighbourhoods where:

  • There are many people living nearby to support local businesses and public transportation.
  • It is easy to walk or cycle along and cross streets.
  • The number of bus stops, parks, schools, stores, restaurants and other interesting places within walking distance.

The score is highest in urban areas and city centres, and low in suburban areas, smaller towns and rural areas.

The score uses data from the Canadian Active Living Environment index, which was developed by researchers at McGill University in Montreal. You can find more technical details here:

The Access to Natural Areas score measures how much green vegetation, and how many lakes, rivers, streams or ponds are in a I km square around your neighbourhood.

The score is highest in rural areas where there a few buildings and roads, and can also be high close to large lakes and the ocean. Low values are common anywhere there are roads, buildings, and parking lots, even if there are trees and gardens in the neighbourhood.

The score is based on LandSat satellite images that have been classified into different types of land use using Google Earth Engine by researchers at CANUE.  You can find more technical details here:

The Unusual Heat score measures how many summer days over the past 10 years have had maximum temperatures in the top 5 percent of maximum temperatures recorded in the last 30 years in your neighbourhood.

The score is not always worse in places that are normally hot in the summer, like Montreal, Winnipeg, or Regina, or always better in cooler places on the coasts like Victoria, Vancouver, or Halifax.

The lowest Unusual Heat scores are in most areas of British Columbia, northern Alberta, New Brunswick, northern Nova Scotia and coastal areas of Newfoundland and Labrador. These areas have had more unusual heat days in the last 10 years than other areas in Canada.

The score is based on data from long-term weather stations operated by Environment and Climate Change Canada, and interpolated to neighbourhood locations by experts at the Canadian Forest Service at Natural Resources Canada. CANUE researchers used the data to find the days with the highest temperatures and calculate the Unusual Heat score.

You can find more technical details here:

The Smoke Pollution score measures how many fine particles are in the air in your neighbourhood. Fine particles come mainly from burning gas, oil, wood and other debris, and contain hundreds of chemical compounds and soot. The particles are so small they can only be seen with a microscope, and they can be carried long distances by the wind. The smoke pollution in your neighbourhood might come from local sources (your neighbour’s fireplace), regional sources (forest fires, agricultural burning) or even industrial activities in other countries.

The worst Smoke Pollution scores are in the industrial area around Windsor Ontario, in the Greater Toronto/Hamilton Area, in Montreal and along the St. Lawrence River, and in Edmonton and Fort McMurray in Alberta.

The score is based on MODIS, MISR and SeaWIFS satellite data and air pollution models developed by researchers at Dalhousie University in Halifax.

You can find more technical details here:

The Traffic Pollution score measures how much nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is in the air in your neighbourhood. NO2 is an air pollutant that comes mainly from vehicle traffic exhaust in urban areas, but also from industrial sources and power generation in more rural areas.

The lowest Traffic Pollution scores are anywhere close to busy roads. All city centres have worse traffic pollution than the surrounding suburban and rural areas.

The score is based on data from special monitoring stations set out to measure levels of NO2 near and far from roads, parking lots, and industrial zones. Researchers at the University of British Columbia, and Oregon State University used the monitor data to make a model of NO2 levels for all neighbourhoods in Canada.

You can find more technical details here: