It's smokin' hot out there today, and the city's medical officer of health has issued a heat advisory notification for Tuesday, June 26.
In Hamilton, a heat advisory notification means the medical office of health issues a press release and invites hot Hamiltonians to call the city - 905-546-2489 during business hours - for "tips on coping with the heat and places to go to cool off".
Thanks for nothing, eh?
Actually, I'm not being fair. The medical office of health also provides a link to a Health Canada page with tips on how to deal with extreme heat.
Tips include taking a cool shower, resting in a shady area, and wearing a wide brimmed hat.
I guess that's helpful for people in Hamilton who have easy access to computers and Internet connections, but what about the people who have the most limited means and are actually the most at risk from extreme heat?
We can take a lesson painfully learned in Chicago in 1995 after a searing heat wave killed hundreds of people.
The people who died mainly lived in neighbourhoods characterized by separation of uses, limited street life, and social isolation.
Those who survived lived in neighbourhoods with "vibrant public spaces" according to Eric Klinenberg, the young sociologist who studied the phenomenon, and could turn to their neighbours for support and relief from the heat.
As Jane Jacobs summarized the report:
In South Lawndale, where a much higher proportion of the elderly survived, everything was diametrically different. There the elderly were accustomed to walking outside.
There were plenty of places for them to go on the district's bustling, crowded streets. They knew storekeepers and had no hesitation about hanging around in their air-conditioned spaces, where they also had access to water.
They felt secure about leaving their apartments, and they trusted those who came to check on them, some of whom they knew as acquaintances. In the crisis they were behaving much as they always did in this place with a lively, functioning community.
-- Jane Jacobs, Dark Age Ahead, Vintage Canada, 2005, pp. 83-4
The city can do much to foster and cultivate the kinds of communities that take care of their most vulnerable residents.
A real heat alert program is part of the solution, but only insofar as it is able to energize an existing constellation of support systems.
If those are absent, in a hollowed-out 'neighbourhood' that lacks basic civic amenities, then no heat alert program is likely to be able to reach out to the people who need it the most.
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