How to Ensure Your Park Event Can Handle the Heat
Residents of Canada should be prepared to feel the heat as our climate warms up at twice the global rate. Unfortunately, this means extreme heat events will become hotter, longer, and increasingly commonplace, which does not bode well for our cities. Because of urban heat island – a phenomenon where metropolitan areas experience higher temperatures than outlying areas due to factors like limited greenery and waste heat from densely-packed people –urbanites will feel the heat more than others.
At this time, we should be looking at our cities for solutions – specifically, our parks. Natural landscapes, like parks, mitigate urban heat islands by creating cooler microclimates, which help shield us from the sweltering heat.
In this resource, Park People will outline ways to help you host events in your local parks during extreme heat events.
1. Let’s dive deep into parks and equity!
Before we jump into planning, it is important to acknowledge that going to the park will be a different experience for each person. To illustrate the differences, let’s begin by asking one question. Where is your nearest park? The answer is not so simple. Recent research discovered that compared to whiter, wealthier neighbourhoods, racialized and lower-income neighbourhoods across Canada tended to have less access to quality green spaces and urban parks and are disproportionately impacted by urban heat islands. Even if one wanted to commute to the closest park, the process could be riddled with unexpected barriers. Going to parks in the summer to cool down is, at its core, a health-equity issue, and limited access to urban parks means that equity-seeking communities will bear the brunt of urban heat islands and extreme heat events in the age of climate crisis.
Source: Melanin Skate Crew – McCowan Park, Toronto
2. Be accessible! Be, be accessible!
At first glance, going to the park seems simple, but looking deeper, we can see that parks are sites of structural inequity. For example, according to the 2021 Canadian City Parks Report, 22% of Canadians with disabilities reported that access barriers made visiting parks more difficult, and researchers identified some of these barriers as a lack of accommodations on public transportation or a physical inability to drive or ride a bicycle. Lower-income populations, which often overlap with the population of people with disabilities, are also associated with lower rates of car ownership. Much work is needed to make parks more equitable across the board, and with the climate crisis creating more complications, we must foreground accessibility issues during planning. Here are some things to consider:
- Find out if your event space is accessible to people with mobility issues.
- Make sure there are accessible parking spaces near the event and wide and clear pathways with no congestion.
- Choose a wheelchair-accessible spot with no barriers (i.e., rough terrain) that can impede movement.
- Have staff assist individuals, which may involve offering guidance or mobility aids.
- Confirm that everything is at an accessible height and within arm’s reach.
- If your event will be noisy, create a designated quiet space for people who fatigue easily or may have sensory processing sensitivities.
- If you provide instructions or recommendations, it may be helpful to have accessible signage around as reminders for people who have trouble concentrating.
- If you will host future events in the park, gather feedback from attendees about areas of improvement.
- Some people may be unable to go outside and attend an event due to medical conditions. It is essential to check up on them since socially isolated people are vulnerable to heat-related mortality. One way to include them is to incorporate technology into events and reach out to attendees by phone or video call. Check out the replay of the Park People webinar about bringing the power of parks to homes (key timestamps: 7:20-9:40, 39:40-40:15).
3. Beat the heat with these tips and tricks!
Here are some general guidelines to remember when organizing your park event:
- Limit outdoor activities to before 10 AM and after 4 PM when the sun’s UV radiation is the weakest. Spend the hottest part of the day in air-conditioned places, like libraries or community centers.
- Make sure to provide sheltered areas (e.g. tree canopies and tents) for guests to take refuge from the sun.
- Request guests to wear light-coloured, loose-fitting, and thin clothing! You could provide or ask attendants to bring wide-brim hats, sunscreen, sunglasses, and umbrellas for protection.
- Prevent sunburns because they compromise the body’s ability to cool down. Advise guests to reapply sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher every two hours.
- Look for humidexes when checking local weather forecasts because they describe how hot people will feel.
- Practice responsible stewardship. Park staff have reported having to clean up massive amounts of trash, so please remember that part of enjoying nature includes cleaning up.
Source: Park People – Bonnyville Ravine, Toronto
4. Donut forget about food & beverages!
Providing refreshing food and drinks is a great way to ensure guests stay happy, healthy, and hydrated. When drafting your menu, here are some considerations to keep at the back of your mind:
- Have a hydration station with access to water, sports drinks, and other beverages.
- Remind your guests not to wait until they feel thirsty to take a sip of water! Health authorities recommend drinking six to eight glasses of water per day.
- Drink two to four glasses of water every hour if you exercise or do strenuous work in the heat.
- Bring produce with high water content, such as oranges and tomatoes, which can be another source of hydration.
- Set up near a park water fountain for easy access to an unlimited water source. However, remember to make sure other park-goers can also access the fountain. See below for links to maps of water fountain locations.
- Try to limit alcohol consumption. Alcohol can be very dehydrating and when coupled with extreme heat, can increase the risk of dehydration and heat-related illness. If you will be drinking, opt for beverages with lower alcohol content, like light beers and ciders.
- Remember that sweating can lead to a loss of electrolytes. If your event lasts longer than an hour, consider providing snacks with minerals, like magnesium and potassium, or sports drinks for guests to replenish themselves.
- Make sure meals and snacks are kept at the correct temperature to prevent food-borne illnesses and stop food from spoiling quickly in the heat. Check out Canada’s food safety website for ways to correctly and safely handle foodstuffs.
Source: Park People – Ross Park, Vancouver
5. Gotta keep an eye out for heat-related illness!
With extreme heat events also comes heat-related illness – when the body becomes hotter faster than it can cool down. Luckily, heat-related illness is preventable, so it is essential that you take the time to understand and prepare for it.
- Familiarize yourselves with heat exhaustion and heat stroke symptoms, and stay vigilant. Regularly check in with children, people with chronic illnesses, and seniors because they may be more vulnerable. Here’s a poster from the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health Safety and a link from the Canadian Red Cross.
- Remember to also check in with your volunteers, staff members, and event organizers to ensure they get enough breaks, keep cool, and stay hydrated, and remember to set some time aside for yourself as well!
- Have a medical emergency plan that covers access to medical assistance and shaded areas and identifies the nearest indoor cool spaces. See below for links.
- Have a contingency plan in case of air pollution from wildfire season or the heat worsens. You may have to be flexible and ready to move indoors, postpone, or even cancel your event.
- Bring a first aid kit with supplies to treat heat exhaustion, such as a cooler stocked with bottles of cool water, DIY misters using spray bottles, and cooling gel or ice packs.
- For more information, refer to these heat-related illness guides from the B.C., Ontario, and Québec governments.
Source: High Park Turtle Protectors – High Park, Toronto
Municipal and National Resources:
Leading up to the event, consult local weather forecasts and advisories. It may also be a good idea to get a lay of the land and determine where amenities are in the park. Here are a few resources to help with planning:
- Website for maps of misting stations, cooling centres, and more
- Map of water fountains, handwashing stations, and misting stations
- Map of drinking fountain locations (Metro Vancouver)
- Map of washrooms and sources of potable water
- Map that lets you filter out locations by available amenities (water fountains, pools, community centers, etc.)
- Map of misting stations, cooling centres, and more
- CSV file link with locations of drinking fountains