Decades of racist housing policy left neighborhoods sweltering

By Brad Plumer and Nadja Popovich, The New York Times, August 24, 2020

“In cities like Baltimore, Dallas, Denver, Miami, Portland and New York, neighborhoods that are poorer and have more residents of color can be 5 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit hotter in summer than wealthier, whiter parts of the same city. 

“And there’s growing evidence that this is no coincidence. In the 20th century, local and federal officials, usually white, enacted policies that reinforced racial segregation in cities and diverted investment away from minority neighborhoods in ways that created large disparities in the urban heat environment.

“ ‘It’s uncanny how often we see this pattern,’ said Vivek Shandas, a professor of urban studies and planning at Portland State University and a co-author of [a recent study (open access) linking formerly redlined neighborhoods with hotter summer temperatures]. ‘It tells us we really need to better understand what was going on in the past to create these land-use patterns.’

“Heat is the nation’s deadliest weather disaster, killing as many as 12,000 people a year. Now, as global warming brings ever more intense heat waves, cities like Richmond, Virginia are drawing up plans to adapt — and confronting a historical legacy that has left communities of color far more vulnerable to heat.

However, city-led climate adaptation plans can be politically charged. “Some researchers have warned that building new parks and planting trees in lower-income neighborhoods of color can often accelerate gentrification, displacing longtime residents. In Richmond, city officials say they are looking to address this by building additional affordable housing alongside new green space.”

Read the full article here. (~14 min.)

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