Here’s another privilege higher-income neighborhoods have over their lower-income counterparts: they are literally cooler.
NPR, which conducted a study with the University of Maryland's Howard Center for Investigative Journalism, found that in 97 of the country’s most populated cities, over three-quarters of them showed a trend: “where it’s hotter, it also tends to be poorer.”
Yes, large cities are hotter overall, thanks to the so-called heat island effect. Urban areas—with their traffic jams, concrete skyscrapers, and paved roads—are often warmer (by around 1.8 to 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) than surrounding rural areas. And at night, that difference can climb to 22 degrees Fahrenheit.
But poorer neighborhoods have an even higher temperature discrepancy than financially better off communities—within the same city. It has to do with the fact that these areas have fewer amenities than higher-income neighborhoods (like parks), and are often located near eyesores, like highways.
As NPR points out, the issue “is not just a matter of poor versus rich.” The neighborhoods with higher temperatures? They’re largely home to people of color.
And it’s not by accident, Miya Yoshitani, executive director of the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, tells NPR.
"People of color, African American communities, indigenous communities in the beginning and then immigrant communities as they came to the United States were not given a choice about where they could live, where they could raise their families, where they could work," she says. It’s a “legacy” that clearly persists.
She’s right. According to this 2018 study on the lasting impact of redlining, a form of racial discrimination which blocked certain areas from investments and services, 74% of areas that were redlined are “low-to-moderate income today.” And almost 64% are home to people of color.
Note that extreme heat can lead to a list of health issues, like heat stroke, and also exacerbate chronic conditions. People of color are more likely to suffer from chronic diseases than their white counterparts. This is especially true for those in lower income brackets.
And with that, here’s one last takeaway from NPR’s must-read investigation: “[A]s the planet warms, the urban poor in dozens of large U.S. cities will actually experience more heat than the wealthy, simply by virtue of where they live.” And there clearly wasn’t much choice in the matter.
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