Study Links Historic Racial Discrimination in Property Ownership to Increased Heat Exposure

A new study led by scholars from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and the University of Minnesota has linked historic racial discrimination in property ownership to disparities in heat exposure in Minneapolis, Minnesota, neighborhoods.

The researchers collected data from the Mapping Prejudice project database, which outlines areas of Minneapolis and its surrounding suburbs that were once connected to racial covenants, which were clauses in property deeds that prevented a person of color from purchasing or occupying the property. They compared the information they gathered from the Mapping Prejudice project to data regarding the land surface temperatures, tree cover, and impervious surfaces in Minneapolis properties with and without ties to historic racial real estate discrimination.

The results found that neighborhoods that had racial covenants were 1.89 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than the Minneapolis area average. These properties also had 10.93 percent more tree canopy and 3.75 percent less impervious surface cover than the Minneapolis average. The study authors believe these environmental benefits are tied to both public and private entities, with cities more likely to environmentally protect areas with high property value, such as affluent White neighborhoods.

“Extreme heat exposure during heat waves can be life threatening, and here we show that the policies of the past like racial covenants, in addition to redlining, shape whose lives are threatened by dangerous heat and who is protected from this health impact,” the authors write. “As cities face future climate change, addressing disparities in heat exposure and tree canopy cover are increasingly pressing environmental justice concerns.”

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