Health

Neighborhoods of Color Are Hotter Than White Ones, Regardless of Income

White Urban, Small Town Residents Benefit From More Infrastructure

As a heat wave pummeled the East Coast, researchers find that non-white neighborhoods are hotter than those of color, as noted in the study “Widespread Race and Class Disparities in Surface Urban Heat Extremes Across the United States” first published by Earth’s Future, AGU’s journal on July 13. 

Using land surface temperatures during summer heat waves collected by a NASA satellite, researchers looked at 1,056 U.S. counties with more than 10 developed census tracts. 

They found the poorest tracts — those with lowest average education levels — within a county are significantly hotter than the richest, and more educated. 

They also found that neighborhoods with higher Black, Hispanic, and Asian population shares are hotter than the more White, non-Hispanic areas in each county.

“Although individual locations have different histories that have contributed to race- and class-based geographies, we find that the physical features of the urban environments driving these surface heat exposure gradients are fairly uniform across the country,” study authors wrote. 

“Systematically, the disproportionate heat surface exposures faced by minority communities are due to more built-up neighborhoods, less vegetation, and—to a lesser extent—higher population density.”

Experts agree that particularly in summer, warming in cities due to alterations of the surface energy balance jeopardizes human health and productivity. 

The distribution of excess urban heat varies within cities, and as a result communities do not share a city’s extreme heat burden equally. 

Summer heat waves cause more than 700 deaths each year in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers of Disease Control [CDC]. When heat and humidity are so high that a body can no longer cool itself through sweating, heat stroke can set in, rapidly causing brain and organ damage. 

People who are older, have certain chronic health conditions or are physically exerting themselves are most at risk.

One of the researchers, Susanne Benz, had the idea for the study after reading a New York Times article finding that neighborhoods the U.S. government redlined in the 1930s—meaning they classified them as poor investments because people of color lived there—are now hotter than white neighborhoods in the same cities.  

Race-related heat differences were also an issue in rural areas, Benz found. 

“It turns out that even your tiny towns have the same disparities,” Benz said, “and this was something that really shocked me.” 

The trend held up even when they took wealth out of the picture, says the study.

When residents had a similar income, non-white neighborhoods still faced significantly higher temperatures than white ones in 71 percent  of the counties.  

“Inside the city, temperatures are affected by the buildings surrounding you and by the surface of the streets,” said Benz. “Dark pavement absorbs sunlight and releases the heat at night, while trees and other vegetation cool an area through transpiration, when they release water vapor through pores in the leaves.”  

Jeremy Hoffman, a climate scientist and chief scientist at the Science Museum of Virginia, who was not involved in the research said the findings are “quite staggering.”

“These disparities exist across virtually every built environment in the country,” Hoffman said. 

“Money doesn’t grow on trees, but it is certainly concentrated underneath them across the U.S.”

Sarafina Wright –Washington Informer Staff Writer

Sarafina Wright is a staff writer at the Washington Informer where she covers business, community events, education, health and politics. She also serves as the editor-in-chief of the WI Bridge, the Informer’s millennial publication. A native of Charlotte, North Carolina, she attended Howard University, receiving a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism. A proud southern girl, her lineage can be traced to the Gullah people inhabiting the low-country of South Carolina. The history of the Gullah people and the Geechee Dialect can be found on the top floor of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. In her spare time she enjoys watching either college football or the Food Channel and experimenting with make-up. When she’s not writing professionally she can be found blogging at www.sarafinasaid.com. E-mail: Swright@washingtoninformer.com Social Media Handles: Twitter: @dreamersexpress, Instagram: @Sarafinasaid, Snapchat: @Sarafinasaid

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