Why sprawling Aussie neighbourhood is set to be hottest place on earth in six months

Young Planner of the Year, TEDx Speaker and TikTok influencer Samuel Austin explains why western Sydney is set to bake.

Last week, I raised an alarming statistic to my TikTok Audience.

In six months’ time, western Sydney will be the hottest place on earth. And no, I was not exaggerating.

The result? Instantly viral.

Young planner of the year Samuel Austin (left) standing in the street with a microphone. To the right is a graphic showing how hot western Sydney will be.
Young planner of the year Samuel Austin (left) reveals why Western Sydney is going to be the hottest place in the world. Source: Supplied

Thousands of comments and messages asked how we’ve got to this point. And while climate change is playing a factor, you might be surprised to know there’s a much bigger issue ‘boiling’ away in Western Sydney.

Let’s unpack the problem a bit more

Western Sydney is naturally hotter than the eastern half of Sydney due to its unique geography and weather patterns, averaging 18 additional days over 35 degrees compared to the east. However, this additional heat is being significantly amplified by a phenomenon called the Urban Heat Island (UHI) effect.

UHI is a phenomenon where cities and urban spaces become much hotter than surrounding, less urbanised areas. This is because buildings and hard surfaces absorb heat and radiate it back out into the immediate atmosphere. Lower levels of vegetation cover due to hard surfaces and less water retained in the landscape also reduces evapotranspiration, a key process for removing heat from the environment.

Research shows that urbanised areas like Marsden Park, Edmonson Park, and Penrith can be a staggering 6 to 10 degrees hotter than nearby bushland and natural landscapes.

Remember that sizzling summer of 2019/20? Penrith earned its place in history as the hottest spot on Earth, baking at a scalding 48.9°C.

Design mistakes that will punish Sydney's west

But you might be asking, given how much of Sydney is covered in houses, why are the new suburbs in western Sydney so much worse?

In the past 10 years Sydney has built more houses than it has done in history, with the majority being detached single-family houses on the urban fringes of western Sydney. Exactly where the hottest temperature on earth was recorded.

The majority of these suburbs are clear cut of vegetation as part of the earthworks, meaning there is little to no mature vegetation left standing.

Left - a cross through a synthetic lawn. Right - a line around a black roof.
Low levels of vegetation and black roofs are just two reasons Western Sydney is set to swelter. Source: Samuel Austin

However, houses built in the past 20 years differ significant than our existing housing stock. They’re built on much smaller lots, on average half the size of a typical Sydney suburban block.

Most houses are built to the boundary line, with only 1 to 2m separating them. Backyards aren’t big enough for a hills hoist, let alone for a mature tree to grow.

The roofs are painted black, which absorbs a significant amount more heat than a white or light-coloured roof. Front yards are non-existent, sacrificed for dark asphalt car spaces and roads.

The combination of the above can result in new areas having a permeable surface of between 90-95 per cent, which is compounded by dark-coloured roofs and roads that stretch on and on for miles.

Housing mistakes could prove deadly for Sydney's poor

And the end result of all this heat? Soaring energy usage for A/C units, expensive home maintenance as appliances break. And entirely avoidable, preventable, needless deaths.

The vulnerable and socioeconomically disadvantaged suffer the most during extreme heat.

They can’t afford to live in the cooler suburbs like Mosman and Bondi. They can’t afford to run the A/C all day and night. Often, their homes are of poor quality and lack modern insulation. They often suffer from long-standing health issues.

Co-incidentally, the most vulnerable and disadvantaged population is concentrated right in the heart of hot, hot, Western Sydney.

If the heatwaves of Europe, the United States of America and China worried you, there’s plenty more to be worried right here at home.

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