The Big Heat

Part 4 in the Councillor Cado series

CHERYL LYON – Recap of Parts 1, 2 & 3: The Watershed Peterborough municipal council is meeting to decide the future of a piece of land in the city made vacant by demolition of a derelict condo building. At a previous meeting, Councillors had approved its use for a Food Forest but the rapid onset of recurring heat waves – locally referred to as “the Big Heat”− have altered the local picture. Other uses for the land are now also being proposed.

Councillor Cado recalled something from the “before times” in 2023 when he was about ten years old. It was a story his mother often told now about winter that year. He recalled her voice cracking with emotion as she described the unprecedented numbers of homeless people in the City with some deaths from having no shelter. Many people had to sleep outdoors due to lack of municipal emergency action and unaffordable rental housing.

Cado wondered why that memory had floated up now, at this time of such heat. He concluded that back in ’22-23, winter had starkly illustrated the class divide: those with a home and those without. But now, in 2037, heat, not cold, was the great leveller.

Income levels became indistinguishable among people stripped almost naked, cooling off together neck deep in Little Lake, in the City’s many creeks, and swimming pools. Trent and the Athletic Centre waived entry fees as a public health measure.

Conversations that never occurred before were initiated as class became less evident. Local beaches, riverbanks and pools had become meeting places. “Business attire” was often a bathing suit.

The Province declared an official State of Emergency. Municipal cooling centres with back-up generators were set up for everyone.

From a 2022 UN environment agency’s report: there was “no credible pathway to 1.5C in place” and … “woefully inadequate” progress on cutting carbon emissions means the only way to limit the worst impacts of the climate crisis is a “rapid transformation of societies”.
Current pledges for action by 2030, even if delivered in full, would mean a rise in global heating of about 2.5C, a level that would condemn the world to catastrophic climate breakdown”

The incessant heat had displaced the previously-approved Food Forest as a municipal priority.

The original idea had been a three acre, green island of native fruit and nut trees, berry bushes, edible flowering plants and herbs free for the gleaning by all citizens. The trees’ shade would help lower urban temperatures and function as a carbon sink. The Forest had needed at least five years to get established.

The Urban Community Farm

But the fierce heat waves began to arrive in the second year of soil remediation (necessary due to toxic materials found unexpectedly in the condos’ demolition.) But the unrelenting heat had devastated the seedling nursery; frequent water rationing didn’t help the situation. Municipal funding had been diverted away from the whole project to address the heat disasters. This was the reason Chioma Sani came to speak to Council today. She was proposing how her Community Experimental Farm (CEF) on River Road could help the heat impacts and replace the Food Forest.

Verified by speakers from Trent University’s community research arm, Chioma had reported that the Farm successfully produced heat-resistant and heat-loving food crops and growing methods, through its experimental/demonstration work since 2026 and that it could replace the Food Forest with an urban farm that would include trees, climate-adapted ground crops and state-of-the-art greenhouses.

Chioma Sani had quietly become well-recognized in local crop science circles as an “expert knowledge-holder,” knowledge that she had carried with her from her native Nigeria. She had allied with local indigenous knowledge holders, who, by law in 2030, had to be consulted in their officially acknowledged role in the new Land Protectors Authority. The Authority had helped to fund and oversee CEF experiments in crops and farming methods suitable for the altered local agricultural zone that had gradually shifted north.

These adapted and intensively planted food crops could tolerate the radically altered local climate better than those originally planned for free public gleaning in the Food Forest. Produce from the farm would supply a new, non-profit, food co-operative offering both food and employment. Its new crops and food-growing techniques could be replicated by home and community gardens, adding to local food security.

Today, Council was being asked for the necessary Zoning By-Law to reclassify the former condo site as “Food Land.”

Competing Climate Change Priorities

As time for the vote approached, Chioma and her Trent colleagues waited in suspense: there was unexpected new competition for that site. Unused land had become scarcer in the urban area due to increasing housing intensification. Any unused parcels had become real estate ‘gold.’ Chioma wasn’t the only delegation to speak to Council; developers were also lobbying Council on their proposals for apartments on the old condo land. Here was the challenge of competing climate priorities.

A vote in favour of an urban farm was not a sure thing.

In the tense atmosphere, Cado and his mother exchanged glances. The knot of whispering students in the public gallery became very quiet. Developer reps shuffled their documents.

The Big Heat © 2023 by Cheryl Lyon in The Greenzine is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 

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