Windsor, Ontario is Adapting to Extreme Heat by Improving its Parks

Canada's southernmost city, Windsor, Ontario, is already one of the hottest cities in the country and it is getting hotter. Windsor can expect nearly three times as many very hot days (maximum temperature over 30°C) by 2100, according to the Climate Atlas of Canada.

A Thermometer indicating  "extreme heat" of 40 degrees Celsius. Photo credit: Sung Yoon Jo (iStock 1011128754)

Extreme heat is a health risk in Windsor

Extreme heat events (also known as heatwaves) are a serious health risk to residents in Windsor. Populations particularly at risk include young children, seniors and people who work outdoors. Extreme heat can lead to a quick dehydration, making heat‑related illnesses, including heat exhaustion and heat stroke, more common.

  • Watch for Health of Canadians in a Changing Climate , a report that Health Canada will publish in 2021 that will provide an assessment of the risks of climate change (including extreme heat) to the health of Canadians and to the health care system.

What is the urban heat island effect?

A city's urban architecture and industrial land can help create an urban heat island effect. This effect can cause air temperatures in urban areas to be on average 1°C (and up to 12°C in some places) warmer than nearby rural areas. Urban heat islands are intensified by a lack of vegetation, the predominance of dark, heat-absorbing materials such as asphalt and concrete, and large buildings that can block air circulation. The higher temperatures in areas with urban heat islands can worsen health impacts for residents. Some parts of Windsor have a marked urban heat island effect.

Reducing urban heat islands and providing cooling in Windsor's 200+ parks

With support from Health Canada, the City of Windsor conducted an assessment (PDF, 3.2 mb) of its urban heat island effect in 2012. A key finding from this report was that the city's green spaces (i.e., parks, playgrounds and playing fields) were becoming hot and uncomfortable on many summer days.

Windsor's municipal officials are seeking ways to lessen the impacts of rising temperatures in the hottest months of the year. The municipality's climate change adaptation plan targets its more than 200 parks, many of which now lack adequate shade and water features.

"During heat waves, we want people to visit cool spaces," says Karina Richters, the City's environmental sustainability and climate change supervisor. "But some of these places — like playgrounds — are not cool."

A study to investigate thermal comfort in Windsor's parks used infrared images of rubber surfaces below play structures in three Windsor parks and showed that the surfaces were extraordinarily hot, ranging from about 50°C to about 70°C.

Thermal imaging of Windsor's Captain John Wilson Park shows the temperature of the dark rubber mat under the play structure (yellow area) is 71.6°C. Photo credit: City of Windsor
Thermal imaging of Windsor's Captain John Wilson Park shows the temperature of the dark rubber mat under the play structure (yellow area) is 71.6°C. Photo credit: City of Windsor

Thermal imaging of Windsor's Captain John Wilson Park shows the temperature of the dark rubber mat under the play structure (yellow area) is 71.6°C.

Windsor's 20-year Parks and Outdoor Recreation Master Plan includes a number of recommendations to be completed from 2016 to 2035 that will help make Windsor parks more comfortable on extremely hot days. These include planting trees to shade play equipment, erecting shade structures and adding splash pads, misting stations and drinking fountains. Since 2015, the City of Windsor Parks and Recreation Department has integrated these thermal comfort design features in over 12 city parks.

Photograph of a park with trees, shade structure  and splash pad in Windsor. Photo credit: City of Windsor

A park with trees, shade structure and splash pad in Windsor.

Find out more about the effects of climate change on cities and towns across Canada

Canada in a Changing Climate: Advancing our Knowledge for Action is the national assessment of how and why Canada's climate is changing; the impacts of these changes on our communities, environment, and economy; and how we are adapting. In 2020, watch for the Cities and Towns chapter of the national assessment, which will explore the effects of extreme heat and other climate change impacts on Canadian cities and towns and how we are adapting.

Protect yourself and your family in very hot weather

Advancing Climate Adaptation in Canada