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A direct connection between racist housing policy in the 1930s and how hot your neighborhood is

The NY Times “How Decades of Racist Housing Policy Left Neighborhoods Sweltering is a look how the practice of red lining in the 1930s has a had a lasting impact on the environment of neighborhoods in Richmond:

“Across more than 100 cities, a recent study found, formerly redlined neighborhoods are today 5 degrees hotter in summer, on average, than areas once favored for housing loans, with some cities seeing differences as large as 12 degrees. Redlined neighborhoods, which remain lower-income and more likely to have Black or Hispanic residents, consistently have far fewer trees and parks that help cool the air. They also have more paved surfaces, such as asphalt lots or nearby highways, that absorb and radiate heat.”

Residential Security Map of Richmond from the 1930s (8/27/2009)
Babies within 5 miles of downtown RVA face 20-year difference in life expectancy (4/29/2015)
Mapping Inequality shows relation between racism and the built environment (10/31/2016)
Richmond’s urban heat islands (7/27/2020)

1 comment

Lee 08/25/2020 at 1:08 PM

Let me preface this by saying redlining was undeniably wrong, and I am not defending it. However, this seems to be as much a function of building density as redlining. Older neighborhoods (especially those built before widespread automobile ownership) tend to be more tightly packed. Likewise, lower income and minority communities in the United States tend to be concentrated in older neighborhoods (at least, historically).

In the article, there is a photo of a home in a greener/cooler/wealthier/majority white/etc. Richmond neighborhood. There are at least 3 times as many mature shade trees visible in that photo, on that one single family lot as there are around my house in Union Hill and the 8 closest neighbors on my block. There are probably more mature trees on two or three LOTS in that neighborhood than on many BLOCKS in my neighborhood. But even if we wanted more trees where I live, there’s no where to actually put them – buildings are too closely spaced for that to be a sensible solution.

Anyway, figuring out how much of this is due to density, how much of it is correlative, rather than causative, etc. would probably be useful for actually solving the problem. That one photo makes me think that the solution in a lot of Richmond neighborhoods is probably a mix of incentives/assistance/mandates for green roofs, container/sidewalk gardens and window boxes, reflective/energy efficient roofing, better air conditioning and so forth. Planting more trees only works if there is actually space for more trees.


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