Have you ever walked onto a tree shaded path or into a woodland during a heatwave? The sense of relief is immediate as you leave the direct sunlight and enter a dappled cooler more protective world. Living in Cambridge this is a rare sensation for many. The street I live on has no trees on it, not a single one, although we do have space for dozens of parked cars! At this time of year, it gets really hot. Cities usually get hotter than surrounding countryside because of all the hard hot surfaces of brick, metal and concrete, and the lack of cooling from water bodies and plants. This is known as the ‘urban heat island effect’. It is worsened by heat from cars. As our summers get hotter due to climate change, Cambridge will become less and less pleasant as heatwaves and the heat island effect gets worse. That is unless we do something about it.
The trees and green spaces, which we do have already, are not spread out fairly through the city. Wealthier residents are more likely to have private gardens, perhaps access to college gardens, and easy means to travel to the countryside. While those with less privilege and money are more likely to have minimal private or public green spaces which they can access.
But it doesn’t have to be like this. The Cambridge Canopy Project has already been working to increase the tree cover in the city and while it is great that some progress has been made, to me Cambridge doesn’t feel very different yet. We have been making marginal rather than transformational change. If we want Cambridge to be a place where everyone can live comfortably then we need to make much more space for nature so that every street becomes tree lined. We need bushes and benches and the buzzing of life on every corner. Perhaps what we really need is to see ourselves not as separate to nature, living in our city of brick and concrete and car, but as being part of nature? With this we might find that we can thrive even as our weather warms.
Dr James Smith, GP and Public Health Consultant