From the editor: Cities must protect people in extreme heat this summer

Art by @RESLUS

Art by @RESLUS

The hot weather has officially arrived in Metro Vancouver and this means sunny days on the beach, going for hikes, and having drinks with your friends on the patio. However, the hot weather also means heat waves, forest fires throughout British Columbia, smoky air, and people suffering through the heat. 

In Metro Vancouver, the hot weather arrived in late April with the first heat wave hitting the weekend of May 12. That weekend people saw forest fires start in Donnie and Stoddart Creek  and the Lower Mainland saw smoky air the week after. When feeling the warm weather at the end of April and early May, it took me by surprise as this is just the beginning of the summer. 

The Weather Network, Environment Canada, and other meteorologists are stating that B.C. will most likely experience a hotter and drier than normal summer temperatures. 

Expecting these temperatures means cities should consider more planning for the hot weather ahead this summer to help citizens, especially those who don’t have the resources to always find a place to cool down like a hotel room for the night or afford to have an air conditioner in their home or apartment. 

Many cities around the Lower Mainland in the summer do provide multiple cooling centres and share resources, often low cost or free, where people can go to cool off. 

The City of Surrey offers extreme heat relief locations in Whalley/City Centre, Newton, Guildford, and South Surrey. On the city’s website, they also share library locations for people to stay cool in addition to free outdoor pools and spray parks.

It’s great that the city offers multiple places to go for people to escape the heat. However, oftentimes this isn’t enough as cooling centres, pools, and other places fill up quickly or people don’t have the ability to travel to far places to cool down. 

For Whalley/City Centre, there are only two cooling centres available for people to go to. With the population of the neighbourhood being roughly 102,555 and growing rapidly, there should be more cooling centres to accommodate citizens. 

If cooling centres are crowded, this means less people will be able to stay cool during the heat. Adding more of these centres or offering more places throughout the city to stay cool for free is a great step as it would reduce crowds and give people a chance to stay cool. 

People who are low-income often face disadvantages of having less opportunities to access resources to cool down during the summer. 

When the heat wave occurred in the summer of 2021, hotel rooms across the Lower Mainland were all booked or marked at higher prices as people looked for places to stay overnight and cool down, while air conditioning units were being sold for three times the price on places like Facebook Marketplace as many businesses sold out. Although this was an extreme case, people don’t want to experience this again and worry about the heat. 

Cities are often hotter than rural areas as they experience the “Urban Heat Island Effect,” which is when it feels hotter than it actually is due to closely packed buildings and pavement that trap heat more effectively, according to the Climate Atlas of Canada

Other things cities could do throughout the Lower Mainland this summer to help are planting more trees on streets to reduce heat, installing more water foundations around the city, and possibly painting sidewalks white to reduce the heat on the pavement. 

As the hot weather continues, people deserve to feel safe in the cities they live in and have plenty of low cost or free options to go to escape from the heat. It can be hard to do everything for citizens, but it can be a good place to start.