Shade matters

Want to learn why shade matters? Watch the Shade Matters video.

What is shade and why is it important?

Shade refers to when an object (e.g. a tree or a built structure) provides protection from the sun's rays. By increasing the amount of shade in our community we also increase protection from the sun's harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. Some benefits that shade trees can provide include:

Health and physical benefits:

  • Protection from ultraviolet radiation from the sun
  • Relief from the sun's heat
  • Improving mental and physical health
  • Increasing physical activity by providing relief from the heat and keeping play structure surfaces from overheating and burning the skin

Social and community benefits:

  • Increasing sense of community and strengthening social ties
  • Beautifying a community

Safety benefits:

  • Reductions in crime and aggressive behaviour
  • Reducing traffic speeds and the number of car crashes

Environmental benefits:

  • Reducing air pollution and addressing climate change
  • Reducing the heat in cities (known as the urban heat island effect)
  • Reducing sewer overflows
  • Improving storm water management
  • Providing energy savings by reducing heating and air conditioning costs
  • Supporting biodiversity and pollination

Shade plays an important role in creating a healthier, happier, and safer community. But shade does not just happen. It requires policymakers, municipal staff, businesses, employers, education facilities, community groups and residents to work together to increase shade in the community.

Priority areas for shade

It is not necessary to shade all outdoor spaces. People need a balance of both sun and shade around the community. Certain spaces, however, need extra protection from the harmful effects of the sun's ultraviolet radiation.

Places where children gather or play

These places are a priority for shade because children are extremely vulnerable to the harmful effects of the sun. In most cases, a person's lifetime risk for developing skin cancer and eye damage such as cataracts are largely determined by their level of sun exposure during their childhood.

Public spaces

These spaces where people gather are also a priority for shade to ensure everyone's safety and comfort.

Priority settings for shade include:

  • Child care facilities
  • Schools
  • Parks and playgrounds
  • Seating and spectator areas
  • Sports grounds and facilities
  • Public squares
  • Streetscapes
  • Trails and pathways
Planning shade on private lands and spaces

Everyone has a role to play in increasing shade in the community by creating it for our families and by encouraging organizations to consider creating it as well. We should all have access to shade where we live, work, go to school, and play.

How can shade be created?

  • Homeowners can plant shade trees or build shade structures on their properties. Consider working with your neighbourhood association to increase shade in your community.
  • Workplaces can provide shade for their employees in outdoor areas where they take their breaks.
  • Non-profit groups/funders can ask for shade in grant applications (including a completed shade audit) for outdoor projects.

Shade is achievable with just a change in how we plan the outdoor spaces that we spend time in and may not even require additional funds.

Before installing structures or trees on your property, check your local by-laws for rules and more information.

Planning shade on school and child care lands and spaces

Children need to be outside for physical fitness, social and emotional development, and for their education and personal growth. It is also important that children enjoy the sun safely whenever they are outdoors. One of the most effective ways of protecting students, staff, family, and community members from ultraviolet (UV) radiation and heat is to provide shade where they play, work, and gather.

How can a sun-safe environment be created with shade?

  • Non-profit groups/funders can ask for shade in grant applications (including a completed shade audit) for outdoor projects.
  • School boards, schools, and child care facilities can create a sun-safe environment by:
    • Creating awareness among staff, children, and parents to seek shade as a sun-safe practice
    • Developing and using sun protection and shading policies and procedures
    • Doing a shade audit to determine if there is enough shade on outdoor spaces such as playgrounds (climbers and play equipment), sand play areas, seating and gathering spaces, around the playing fields, drop-off and pick-up zones

Use the results from the shade audit to determine where shade trees should be planted or built structures installed.

For more information, see some resources about shade at schools:

Planning shade on public lands and spaces

If you have responsibility in planning, designing, building, or operating outdoor public spaces such as seating and spectator areas, streetscapes and transit stops, trails and active transportation connectors, parks, playgrounds, and skate parks you play an important role in the enjoyment and health of our community. You can help by building and maintaining shade.

If you are a community member, you have an important role too in improving shade in your community. Look for opportunities to have your voice heard. Often when there are new or refurbishment projects, there are opportunities to provide input into the planning of the project. To find out about upcoming projects where shade can be created, scan your local paper or council meeting agendas.

Creating shade does not always add to the cost of your project, but it always adds to the value of the space. Different types of shade work for different settings. Each site needs to be assessed for its own plan. The right shade for your site may be a built structure, trees, or a combination of both.

For more information, see Creating Shade at Public Facilities - Policy and Guidelines for Local Government Second Edition 

Additional resources

Climate Change and Health in Waterloo Region

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