Canada’s constitutional documents set out a hierarchy of powers, giving some powers to the federal level, some to the provincial level. Provinces, in turn, passed legislation to establish cities and then delegated some of the provinces’ powers to the municipal level. The constitution doesn’t talk a lot about climate change. Cities don’t, in short, have a lot of control over the environment. Not directly, anyway.
So what can a city do to respond to the challenges a changing environment creates for the day to day life of its residents? What can and should be done at the municipal level to deal with rising temperatures?
For starters, we have to deal with the rising cost of cooling. Air conditioning is a reality of modern housing. But seniors are increasingly being squeezed out of electrical usage by rising utility rates. Can we, as a city, do something about this? We have to.
Rebates, efficiency grants, improved and increased seniors centre facilities, a system to monitor at risk seniors, all things important for the safety of potentially vulnerable citizens.
Our outdoor recreation spaces are increasingly going to require relief from the sun and heat. Sun shelters are an expensive option but can be very effective for heat and sun relief. Tree planting will take time to have the desired effect, but are great options for clean air and aesthetics. We have to find even more ways to increase shade coverage for people who are outdoors for work recreational purposes. We have to rethink boulevard tree planting, shade shelters, transit shelter design, window tinting in municipal buildings and buses, and amend our property standards bylaws for our rental housing stocks.
We may not in a position to solve the problem at its source, but we cannot let ourselves be unprepared for the fallout of rising temperatures like energy grid failures, melting pavement, depreciation of capital to heat and sun damage, injuries and deaths from heat stroke, business revenue in patios, bars and retail lost as people are forced to stay at home in the air conditioning, and a host of other local problems that we will face in the years to come.