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Racism is in the air, literally. TikTok user @ high.hort proved it in a viral video in which he describes how neighborhoods are affected by redness (systematic denial of services based on factors like race) have higher temperatures than other neighborhoods.

The TikToker, named Bryan, first released the video as part of a trend on the video sharing app where users share stats that “live in their heads for free.” In it, Bryan explains that neighborhoods that were previously marked red in the 1900s are now 5 to 12 degrees warmer in summer than their unmarked counterparts.

This is because red light districts have fewer trees, which helps reduce heat by providing shade and humidity to the surrounding air through evaporative cooling. But what exactly is redlining?

What is the red line?

In 1933, faced with a housing shortage, the US federal government launched a program explicitly designed to increase and separate the US housing stock. According to NPR, the housing programs launched under the New Deal amounted to a “state-sponsored system of segregation”.

The government’s efforts were “primarily designed to provide housing for middle and lower-middle class white families,” says Richard Rothstein, author of The Color of the Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Parted America. African Americans and other people of color were excluded from new suburban communities and instead pushed into urban housing projects.

The Federal Housing Administration (FHA), which was established in 1934, bolstered segregation efforts by refusing to insure mortgages in and near African American neighborhoods, a policy known as redlining. The rationale for the FHA was that if African Americans bought homes in these suburbs, or even if they bought homes near those suburbs, the property values ​​of the homes they insured (i.e. the white houses they provided) would decrease. And so their loans would be at risk.

As expected, these decades-old housing policies have had a lasting effect on American society. “If we want greater equality in this society, if we want less hostility between the police and young African American men, we have to take steps to desegregate,” says Rothstein.

The effects of historical housing policies on residents’ exposure to intra-urban heat

The information Bryan highlighted in his TikTok video had indeed been proven in January 2020 by a team of researchers who studied 108 American urban areas and found that yes, neighborhoods formerly marked in red in almost all of the cities studied were warmer than neighborhoods not marked in red, some by nearly 13 degrees.

In other words, Rothstein was right; the discriminatory and racial housing practices put in place almost a century ago still have repercussions on these same neighborhoods today. Nearly 90 years after these maps were created, neighborhoods marked in red are warmer than top-rated neighborhoods by almost 5 degrees on average, according to research from Portland State University, the Science Museum of Virginia and the Virginia Commonwealth University.

“It was very surprising when we saw that this was a model that we saw regularly across the country,” said Vivek Shandas, professor of urban studies and planning at State University. from Portland, who co-authored the study when speaking to NPR.

The injustice does not end there: this extra heat can have dangerous and sometimes fatal consequences on health. Extreme heat kill more Americans every year than any other weather-related disaster, and as climate change progresses, heat waves also increase in intensity and frequency.

In Baltimore, NPR and the Howard Center have found dramatic increases in emergency call rates during dangerous heat waves, as low-income patients in city hot spots visited hospital more often than low-income patients in cooler areas.

Cities, in general, tend to be warmer than their rural surroundings – the way they are built often creates what is called an “urban heat island”. This is mainly due to the fact that cities have more pavements and concrete, which absorb heat and release it slowly. They also tend to have fewer trees, which cool the air and provide shade. Cities are warmer, but the green spaces and concrete in them are not distributed evenly across these urban areas, which can create micro-islands of heat within a city.

Looking at neighborhoods with warmer temperatures than others, neighborhoods formerly marked in red have statistically around half the trees on average today as the top-rated predominantly white and wealthier neighborhoods on these maps.

The results of these studies confirm what has been debated for years: our cities were designed by people who knew exactly what they were doing. And clearly, everyone’s best interests weren’t taken into account when making plans for cities and communities. And now? As Rothstein says, “You can’t undo the damage. You need an explicit, race-based policy. You need positive housing action.

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Racism is in the air, literally: how segregation affects time

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