When I stood on a hot schoolyard 23 years ago studying children’s play and realized that something was wrong—the children were not playing, because it was too hot, because there was no shade—I thought that the problem that I had just identified could be easily fixed. Speak to the principal, plant a few trees, problem solved. We did plant the trees but I soon realized that without a policy to acknowledge the need for the trees and their shade and to keep the trees in place once planted, we were caught in an unending cycle: plant, cut down trees, replant. Just a waste of time, effort, and opportunity lost as one hot unshaded year followed another.
As well as planting trees, I began to lobby for a tree provision and protection policy about 17 years ago. Thirteen years ago I began my surface temperature research and it became clear that not just tree policy but shade policy was also needed. Ten years ago, I began lobbying my local public school board to adopt a schoolyard shade policy. Finally, in January 2012 a shade policy was adopted. In the policy, the need for shade is acknowledged, schools and school councils are encouraged to plant trees, and the trees will be the responsibility of the schools.
The school board shade policy is a good start but imagine for a moment how much more shade there would have been on their schoolyards if 23 more years of effort and growth was present today. A whole generation to implement policy. Yet another generation of children who had to bear the discomfort and the health risks. One might be forgiven for asking why.