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Low-income neighborhoods tend to be hotter than their wealthier counterparts. That was the finding of an investigation NPR did last fall with the University of Maryland's Howard Center for Investigative Journalism. Those hotter neighborhoods are not only poorer, they are also disproportionately communities of color. Now new research suggests that pattern was locked in nearly a century ago. NPR's Meg Anderson reports.
MEG ANDERSON, BYLINE: Picture a city you know well. Imagine taking a stroll through its most tree-covered neighborhood on a hot summer day.
SARAH LILLIE ANDERSON: We feel at ease because there's greenery everywhere.
ANDERSON: That's Sarah Lillie Anderson from the nonprofit American Forests.
LILLIE ANDERSON: There might be more people walking around. You might feel cool because you're walking underneath the shade of mature, well-kept tree canopy.
ANDERSON: Cooling things down is one of the most important things trees do, and they're also linked to all kinds of other health benefits. Data shows wealthy areas of cities tend to have more trees. And that's not an accident.
LILLIE ANDERSON: Our cities, they're not like jungles, where they developed just by natural selection on their own. Right? People designed these places, which means they were designed for particular people.
ANDERSON: And by using particular policies. In the 1930s, the federal government rated neighborhoods to help mortgage lenders decide which areas of cities were risky. Risk level was largely based on the number of African Americans and immigrants living there. The government made maps and shaded the riskiest neighborhoods red, hence the term redlining.
That practice and the other discriminatory housing policies of the time helped concentrate poverty for generations. You can feel the effects today - literally. In a study of more than 100 cities nationwide, nearly every neighborhood that was redlined in the '30s is hotter in temperature today than the highest-rated neighborhoods - hotter by an average of nearly 5 degrees Fahrenheit.
VIVEK SHANDAS: It's like stepping into a parking lot from a park. You would feel that relatively quickly.
ANDERSON: That's Vivek Shandas, a professor at Portland State University and a co-author on the study.
SHANDAS: It was very surprising when we saw that it was a pattern that we were seeing consistently across the country.
ANDERSON: Shandas says hotter neighborhoods are likely the result of more pavement and fewer trees. And that extra heat can make a big difference.
SHANDAS: And those communities are much more likely to face grave consequences in terms of their human health, their financial health or generally their ability to cope with these effects.
RICHARD ROTHSTEIN: The policies of segregation that were followed by the federal government were so powerful that they determine the racial landscape of today.
ANDERSON: Richard Rothstein is the author of "The Color Of Law." It breaks down the history of segregation in the U.S. He says federal policies ensured communities of color stayed where they were - in denser housing and with fewer amenities like parks and tree-lined streets.
ROTHSTEIN: African Americans were restricted to neighborhoods because other neighborhoods are now unaffordable to them - restricted to neighborhoods where there are fewer trees, where there is more heat.
ANDERSON: The 1968 Fair Housing Act prohibited housing discrimination, but it didn't address the damage already done. Nearly 90 years after the redlining maps were created, you can still feel the difference.
Meg Anderson, NPR News.
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