Racist housing practices from the 1930s linked to hotter neighborhoods today
In cities around the country, if you want to understand the history of a neighborhood, you might want to do the same thing you'd do to measure human health: Check its temperature.
That's what a group of researchers did, and they found that neighborhoods with higher temperatures were often the same ones subjected to discriminatory, race-based housing practices nearly a century ago.
In a study of 108 urban areas nationwide, the formerly redlined neighborhoods of nearly every city studied were hotter than the non-redlined neighborhoods, some by nearly 13 degrees.
Redlining refers to the federal government's practice in the 1930s of rating neighborhoods to help mortgage lenders determine which areas of a city were considered risky. The federal Home Owners' Loan Corporation made maps and shaded neighborhoods red that it deemed "hazardous." That risk level was largely based on the number of African Americans and immigrants living there. The practice, along with the other segregationist housing policies of the time, had lasting effects — from concentrating poverty to stifling home ownership rates.
You can still feel those effects — literally. Nearly 90 years after those maps were created, redlined neighborhoods are hotter than the highest-rated neighborhoods by an average of almost 5 degrees, according to the research from Portland State University, the Science Museum of Virginia and Virginia Commonwealth University.
"Research on environmental justice has yet to really try to understand how systems are at work that may cause inequities," says Morgan Grove, a research scientist at the Forest Service's Baltimore Field Station and co-author of the service's study. "There are these explanations that require understanding history to understand why we see what we see today in cities."