For decades starting in the 1930s, the federal government encouraged mortgage lenders to deny home loans to people living in predominantly black neighborhoods. These practices and policies, collectively known as redlining, have reinforced segregation and deepened inequalities.
Preparatory work United States, a network of environmental justice organizations, explores the connection between neighborhoods once marked in red and today’s climate crisis. As part of his Climate-friendly neighborhoods Initiative, Groundwork overlaid historical locator maps of nine U.S. cities with data on tree cover, heat, and impervious surfaces such as asphalt and concrete.
Fewer trees and more paved surfaces put communities at a higher risk of heat waves and extreme storms, which are increasingly common with climate change. Neighborhoods with few trees and large expanses of sidewalks are warmer, Studies show. And with less vegetation to absorb water and more paved surfaces, these neighborhoods are more likely to be inundated.
Yale Climate Connections spoke with Cate Mingoya, Director of Capacity Building at Groundwork USA, about what the map data reveals and how the group is helping local residents respond.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Climate connections at Yale: How have redlining and other racist housing policies affected climate risk?
Cate Mingoya: Redlining, while it did not create segregation, codified practices of segregation and created economic disincentives for people to invest in neighborhoods that were previously in red.
This means that a city, which relies heavily on property taxes, is not going to channel resources – things like parks, things like trees, things like improved sewer infrastructure – into those neighborhoods that are considered to be. “Declining” or “declining”, which was the designation of these red light districts. And so now, over 90 years later, we still find that areas that were previously marked in red are warmer, more humid, and have poorer air quality.
Research by Jeremy Hoffman and Vivek Shandas shows just how this is – that on average it is about 4.7 degrees Fahrenheit warmer in the same city, on the same day, between neighborhoods that are marked in red and [non-redlined areas]. But it can be as extreme as [almost] 20 degrees Fahrenheit. This is the difference between turning on your air conditioner and not. That’s the difference between a $ 150 bill and a $ 250 bill at the end of July for your electricity. And that’s the difference between spending time on the porch with your family in the summer and ending up in the hospital for heat stroke or an exacerbated illness, like asthma, for example.
YCC: How does it feel for residents to see this on the mapping tool? What are the answers?
Cate Mingoya: One of the things that really surprised me is how well these cards can be used as a neutral platform for fairness conversations. For example, in Richmond, Virginia, we talk to the residents and they say, “Yes, we knew this neighborhood was marked in red. We know from our lived experience that this neighborhood is much warmer. But they appreciate having these concrete tools to sit down with their local government, with elected officials, with leaders of their community and say to them, “You have to explain why this is still the case. And you have to explain what you are going to do to make things a little different.
And we’re also finding that it’s a very good platform for conversations with people who are skeptical about the climate crisis, who say, “Well, I don’t know if this is a concern in our community. But when they sit down and see a 15 degree disparity between one neighborhood and another, it helps them think, “My God, my experience in my neighborhood – it could be very different from someone who was before in red. “
Once you see these cards, you can’t ignore them. Once you see the historic damage, you can’t ignore it. So these cards are a great platform for fairness conversations in a way I didn’t expect.
YCC: With this knowledge and information, how do you work to reduce these disparities?
Cate Mingoya: In all nine cities that are part of our Climate Safe Neighborhoods partnership, we’re looking at short-term mitigation measures – things like installing trees and air conditioning for residents who may not have it. and suffer from urban heat island effect.
But very important, we are also working to build the capacity of the residents so that they can defend themselves. It’s doing things like asking, “How does our governance structure work?” What is the master planning process and what is the opportunity for me as a resident to intervene with my needs? How is the money the city collects and redistributes for things like parks, trees and green spaces – how is it distributed? “
One of the things you can’t do to reduce these disparities is think you can plant a bunch of trees or plant green infrastructure, and call it a day. Our neighborhoods don’t look like this by accident, so they’re not going to change by accident. And one of the most important things we can do is not only take interventions to cool and dry out our neighborhoods, but also to ensure that residents have a built capacity to intervene in how these resources are distributed so that they can be more evenly distributed.
We worked closely with residents to identify exact street corners and what type of green infrastructure they would like to see in those locations. So sometimes it’s trees, sometimes it’s the installation of rain barrels. In some cases, it requires small parklets. In some cases, it’s about tearing up the pavement on underutilized properties and having the ability for that water to sink into the ground instead of just pooling and draining down the street. In some cases, these are downspout planters. But it’s really specific to what community members and what the neighborhood wants to see. And that’s really important for creating long-term stewardship. And again, to redress this long-term harm, ensure that residents are in control of decision-making in their community when residents are so often excluded from the car altogether.
One of my favorite examples comes from the Globeville area of Denver, which is a Superfund site and once housed a lead smelter. Residents of the Globeville neighborhood sat with a map portal and gazed at the forest canopy. And one of the residents noticed that the canopy coverage in their neighborhood was 1%. But if you had to take a bus [to another area just across the river], the canopy cover exceeded 23%. That’s a huge difference – 1% forest cover to 23%. Imagine what the difference in air quality looks like, what the shade looks like, or even what the beauty of having a really nice dense canopy looks like. So this allowed residents to come together with a really concrete request. They wanted the city to use [tax revenue set aside for climate mitigation measures or creation of green space] plant trees in the public right-of-way.
YCC: How can your work be used as a model for other communities?
Cate Mingoya: One of the things that I think works so well in this partnership is that I think it can be done in almost any city because the data, information and maps are relatively easy to put together. with open source data and serve as a very good platform for conversations about the future. And I think there’s kind of a three-part structure that communities can adopt.
One is to use the maps to understand the history of a community, because without a very clear understanding of the damage that has happened in the past, you cannot have a vision for the future and to know how you go and repair that damage.
The next step is to work with residents to understand their priorities and what they would like to see changed in their community, as the items shown on the map are not necessarily the ones that residents prioritize the most and want to see changes. So it’s very important to put residents in the driver’s seat, get them leading the conversation, and then act as an organizing force to bring their ideas and priorities together in one place.
And then the last element is to build the capacity of the residents by educating them on how these political processes work. It can be really confusing. Why do you have a mayor and a city council? Whose job is it? When is the budget decided? And who writes the first draft? What are the possibilities for intervention in the systems and where should residents sit at the table where they do not have one? And by working to build this capacity of residents, residents are not only able to advocate for the implementation of mitigation measures in their community, but they can also begin to apply the same framework to all the other challenges facing their community. community is facing.
YCC: Looking ahead, what do you see in the future and the trajectory as this work progresses?
Cate Mingoya: In these most vulnerable neighborhoods, we want to see not only a change in the built environment, not just the installation of green infrastructure, but also a real systemic change in the way residents are included in decision-making around. issues that matter most to them. Where are there places where there should be table seating for residents where there isn’t, and how do we bring a chair to that table and make sure the residents stay? We will therefore continue to do this work in all our cities. And then our hope is to create a framework so that other cities that have no Trust Groundwork, that are interested in this type of capacity building, interested in this type of systems change, can apply the framework and the methods that we have gathered in their spaces. It’s a model that has worked very well in our communities, and we believe it can work across the country even without the presence of Groundwork. So, over the next two years, we will refine the tools and resources so that we can put them in the hands of other community members who want to see change happen where they live.