Penrith, Australia

Photo by Penrith City Council

Innovative and Collaborative Solution

How does the initiative show evidence of feasibility, including on-going financial and logistical support?

The Cooling the City program has been integrated into a broad range of Council’s operational areas. By taking a holistic approach, Council is moving towards integrating cooling the city principles and actions into business as usual for our operations.

As an example, Council has invested significantly in reinvigorating our nursery, with work starting in 2020. Some of the physical works underway include the upgrade of existing amenity facilities, installation of gravel paved work areas and potting tables, pathways, a refurbished glasshouse, improved material store, solar panels, recycled water, and the undergrounding of power lines to improve safety and create more usable space. This will create enhanced capacity for Council to undertake activities like seed collection, plant propagation and growing, and the supply of plants for projects such as some of the Cooling the City initiatives, as well as other programs like Bushcare.

The integration of a cooling focus has become business as usual for Council delivered projects. Open space upgrades such as parks and reserves now incorporate heat considerations as part of their design, including constructed shade such as shade sails, tree planting, and other elements as appropriate. Also, Council’s Buildings Policy (2021) for new and existing building assets requires cooling the city criteria to be incorporated into the design, construction/refurbishment of Council’s buildings. By integrating these cooling, the city criteria from the design stage, costs must be considered and built into these project budgets from the outset. Council funds are supplemented by grant funding where appropriate.

In what ways is the initiative innovative?

The most distinct and innovative elements of Council’s Cooling the City program is how it is undertaken comprehensively across a broad range of action areas, how it combines practical on-ground actions concurrently with strategy and research, and how it frames the challenge of climate adaptation.

Cities are complex, interconnected, and continually evolving. It is only by focusing on these outcome areas holistically and over the longer-term, that we can ensure that cooling outcomes are delivered in a comprehensive and effective manner.

The need for climate adaptation is now and yet shade trees can require 5-10 years to reach a reasonable level of maturity. At the same time, there is a need to work strategically over the short and longer term to be effective in addressing climate challenges and adaptation solution. Council has taken the approach of delivering on-ground actions while continuously working to refine our strategic approach. This ensures both short term outcomes, but an ongoing culture of continual improvement.

Council has also framed the challenges and impacts of climate with respect to urban and extreme heat in an innovative way. By using the ‘Cooling the City’ terminology, and messaging it creates an inclusive dialogue with the community that is easy to understand and clearly positions the key challenge and solutions that Council and the community will work towards collaboratively. Cooling the City also creates a focus on liveability and wellbeing, which are universally valued across the community.

How is the initiative supported by collaborative working across disciplines and sectors?          

Extreme heat is a challenge for Western Sydney, a region where population growth and development will continue. There is a need to create better urban spaces that are resilient and adapted to our changing climate, and this can only be achieved through working collaboratively with a broad range of professional stakeholders. Council’s Cooling the City Program and Resilient Penrith Action Plan recognise the need for a multi-disciplinary approach with actions being implemented collaboratively across Council departments and disciplines. The value of partnerships and collaborations with external stakeholders has been recognised and supported through our cooling the city work.

In 2020, The Cooling the City Masterclass hosted by Council was attended by over 350 built environment professionals including architects, planners, urban designers, horticulturalists, sustainability officers, and researchers from local councils, State Government, the private sector and universities. Attendees heard from leading international and national experts on the value of cooling and green cover, urban planning and design solutions, the latest research and case studies, and the business case for action. The presentations are available on Council’s YouTube channel, amassing over 3,000 views, demonstrating the success in engaging more professionals.

The event was extremely successful in advocating for change in adapting to heat. Post event surveys showed a significant increase in knowledge as well as motivation to address the impacts of urban heat through sustainable design and climate adaptation. Momentum from the event has been applied by attendees to undertake urban forestry strategies and technical design standards, and to form partnerships and networks.

How does the initiative demonstrate evidence of community support?          

Council regularly undertakes customer satisfaction surveys to gauge community perception of our operational performance. Results critically inform the IP&R process including the community strategic plan, delivery program and operational plan. The community have consistently reflected concerns about heat and creating a cooler and more liveable city in which to live.

The media, locally, state-wide, and even nationally, are increasingly focusing on the need to adapt to the challenge of heat and our changing climate. Penrith has been recognised as the ‘hottest place on Earth’ – for recording the hottest temperature at that specific time worldwide. Media attention has brought about support from community and professional organisations/local business for the cooling the city program.

Council received support from its Resilience Committee, which functions as a formal subcommittee of Council. The Committee includes representatives from the local community, Councillors, and professional organisations. The Committee identified extreme heat as a key challenge, and expressly supported actions delivered as part of the Cooling the City program and were instrumental in contributing to and endorsing the Resilient Penrith Action Plan. Community and stakeholder engagement undertaken prior to the development of the Resilient Penrith Action Plan clearly identified extreme weather, primarily extreme heat as a major shock for the Penrith community, with associated stresses including financial stresses relating to cooling mechanisms and increased energy bills, as well as health impacts from heat. Community engagement highlighted strong support in building adaptive capacity and community resilience to heat through cooling the city initiatives.