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Environmental inequality: US cities are taking matters into their own hands

Environmental inequality: US cities are taking matters into their own hands

She chose to show us two areas of the city: the Southside and the West End. The first sector crosses wide streets on the highway and occupies a large area of ​​industrial land, characterized by large areas of bitumen and its poorly lush cover; The second, a wealthy residential area, characterized by its quiet streets, abundance of plants, and beautiful homes.

Amy Wentz has been a resident of Richmond, Virginia, since her childhood.

Photo: Radio Canada/Hugo Lavalle

As soon as we got out of the car, our guide caught our attention to a bus stop on the edge of the Richmond Highway. There are no bus shelters in sight, no benches to sit on, and no trees to shelter under. If you had to wait here for 30 minutes today that would be too painful مؤلمShe regrets.

However, this is what hundreds of people have to do every day, because a few meters from this busy road are dozens of small houses, built at that time to house factory workers. They are still occupied today, mainly by black families, and more and more, by Latin Americans.

Richmond Highway in Southside.

Richmond Highway in Southside.

Photo: Radio Canada/Hugo Lavalle

It’s so frustratingExplanation of Amy Wentz. There is no tree, no shade, no way to escape the heat. […] Those who live here are neglected.

Co-founder of a non-profit organization whose mission is to give the voice of neighborhood residents, Ms. Wentz has worked with the City of Richmond over the past two years to develop urban infrastructure worthy of the name. Many of the surrounding streets do not even have sidewalks, the asphalt is badly damaged and street furniture is practically non-existent.

About a ten minute drive and then we were escorted to the other side of the James River, in the West End. Just steps away from the prestigious Monument Avenue, the air is cool and the sun is hiding behind thick layers of foliage.

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When there is more green space, and more trees, it makes an incredible difference. It’s cooler and darker…better for your health. It’s not really fair, Scream.

To read and listen:

heavy direction

The disparities highlighted by this small, guided tour are widespread, comments the Virginia Science Museum’s scientific director, Jeremy Hoffman. For years, he’s been tracking temperature changes from region to region, city to city, and the results are sometimes surprising.

A data set made in 2017 containing about 100,000 temperature readings made it possible to establish that, within the city limits of Richmond, there was a temperature difference of approximately 9°C on the same day at the same time, between the neighborhoods of Richmond. And another. This summer, he’s participating in one of the largest heat island mapping companies ever undertaken in the United States.

It was known that there could be temperature differences from one place to another in the same city, but we did not know the extent of those differences. […] I was very surprised by the extent of these deviationsHoffman explains.

In collaboration with other researchers, he repeated the experiment on several occasions and in several cities. The results were often the same: In cooler places, richer, mostly white people live, while in other parts of the city they tend to live poorer than minority communities. The differences largely follow these dividing lines.

But where do these differences come from? In a groundbreaking study published last year, Jeremy Hoffman and two colleagues linked the differences in temperatures recorded today to Redlining, a discriminatory practice in the 1930s to deprive secured mortgages of areas where it was more risky to invest – areas that were inhabited by African Americans at the time. Lacking money, these neighborhoods gradually declined, before being targeted for highway development in the 1950s and 1960s.

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Many of these places were already in poor condition at the time. so what happened? These neighborhoods were closed off in the state they were in. […] Thus, the thermal inequality we see today is partly the result of decisions made nearly 100 years ago.

As part of this study, the results were published in the journal climate In 2020, the authors observed temperature differences between neighborhoods in 108 cities in the United States. They concluded that in 94% of cases, regions were rated as least suitable for investment as part of the investment process. Redlining Higher temperatures were recorded than those observed elsewhere in the studied cities. The mean deviation was established at 2.6 °C.

Hope on the horizon

In the face of such compelling and disturbing data, the city of Richmond has decided to create a new Climate Justice Index. This indicator ranks city districts and sectors on the basis of about thirty criteria that are directly or indirectly related to environmental quality, and makes it possible to guide municipal management decisions.

This indicator allows us to objectively identify where infrastructure projects and municipal finance need to go first to ensure that all of our residents are also protected from the vagaries of the weather.says Kendra Norell, the municipality’s community engagement coordinator.

Richmond has also set itself the goal of ensuring that all of its citizens have access to a park or green space within 10 minutes’ walk or less from their homes. At present, 70% of them have such access.

To fill the gap, the city is currently developing five new parks, one of which is located in the South Side. The 30 hectares of wasteland woodland will be converted into an urban park in the coming months, said Ryan Wren, director of development at the Parks Department.

If we cannot honestly face our past, we risk making the same mistakes again in the future., exposes it while showing us the chosen site.

Ryan Ryan.

Gardens Development Director Ryan Wren.

Photo: Radio Canada/Hugo Lavalle

He says cities across the country are becoming more and more sensitive to climate issues: We are trying to confront it. If we do not care about social justice and climate resilience now, we will not be prepared for the challenges of the future.

Jeremy Hoffman of the Virginia Science Museum is pleased to see the results of his work being incorporated into the city’s decision-making processes in this way. What this data allows us to do is bring an abstract reality – seemingly distant in time and space – into our backyard. After that, we can no longer ignore it.

Amy Wentz is also pleased to see her organization’s efforts rewarded. Looking at the lush greenery of the West End where our tour ends, she concludes: What they are saying is not that people here should not have all this; This is because we also deserve it.