Redress News Wrap: “Housing Policies From the Past Have Led to Disproportionate Impacts of Heat Waves Across the Country”

As millions of Americans deal with record breaking heat waves, we cannot forget that even levels of exposure to extreme heat events in the U.S. follow patterns of segregation. Formerly redlined neighborhoods, one study found, are already “hotter than…non-redlined neighborhoods, some by nearly 13 degrees,” according to a report from National Public Radio. The increased risk of exposure to elevated heat can be deadly. According to the (U.S. Global Change Research Program, 65,000 Americans on average visited an emergency room for acute heat illness each year. From 2006-2015, more people died due to heat illnesses (1,130), than those killed by tornadoes (1,101), and floods (842). This is all to say that redressing segregation must also be a crucial pillar of how we address how climate change impacts neighborhoods. 

This is not the first NPR story to name the heightened levels of heat exposure in neighborhoods that have suffered from segregation. Nor is it the only venue that has done such reporting. The New York Times has also reported that “temperatures on a scorching summer day can vary as much as 20 degrees across different parts of the same city, with poor or minority neighborhoods often bearing the brunt of that heat.” According to that story, the main factor in those discrepancies relates to the lack of tree cover found in neighborhoods with disproportionate numbers of low-income residents and people of color. That lack of a natural canopy exacerbates what the USDA calls the “urban heat island” effect, in which “concentrations of pavement, buildings, and other surfaces..absorb and retain heat.” The USDA itself has also linked the unequally distributed impacts of urban heat island effects to past patterns of redlining. 

One of the most devastating occurrences of heat related death as it relates to redlined neighborhoods was examined by the documentary, “Cooked: Survival by Zip Code.” In 1995, a heat wave killed 739 Chicagoans, the majority of whom were poor, elderly, and Black. Temperatures in the city peaked at 115 degrees that July. Four years later another heat event killed 114 people and city leaders had done nothing to mitigate the dangers. Over time Chicago learned from these disasters and put protocols in place that made it “a model for other cities facing extreme heat, in part for its preparedness protocols, special training for first responders and outreach to vulnerable populations” according to Scientific American. Some organizations have independently made similar efforts to redress the impacts of segregation through heat exposure preparedness and advocacy work. Groundwork Denver initiated a “Heat Resiliency project to focus on reducing the negative public health impacts of extreme heat on the low-income communities of North Denver (Globeville, Elyria and Swansea) and Commerce City.” This work helped the city of Denver adopt a Climate Adaptation Plan to mitigate the effects of the urban heat island effect.  Groundwork Milwaukee has additionally done a tremendous amount of research and created maps to tell the story of how redlining maps align with hotter neighborhoods in Milwaukee. 

Each of these efforts are directly aligned with the work of the Redress Movement. Long term impacts of discriminatory policies and practices need to be studied and addressed to mitigate further harm to members of marginalized communities that were the targets of segregation policies many years ago. The fact that the policies which created segregation have long been outlawed does not mean that they are not still causing problems today. 

Without redress we will continue to see the impact of increasingly higher temperatures creating dangerous conditions for poor, mostly Black residents in many cities around the country. Without redress, the long term health of residents in those communities will be compromised by increasing temperatures. 

The Redress Movement is a new effort organizing everyday Americans to investigate and document how their communities became so segregated, and to then act to redress the historic wrongs they uncover. If you would like to participate in this new movement, hear more about the work of Redress, or engage with more news stories like this one, sign up with us and  keep an eye out for news updates on our website. Also be sure to explore our resource pages where you can learn more about segregation’s history and consequences, read through the vocabulary of segregation, or use our Citizens’ Guide to discover how segregation affects your community.

Stay tuned for more,

– The Redress Movement Research Team