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Maps of Richmond 'urban heat islands' mirror redlined neighborhoods of 1930s

Posted at 9:45 PM, Sep 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-21 21:45:04-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Several years ago the Science Museum of Virginia began mapping the surface heat in the city of Richmond to identify what are called urban heat islands. What they found closely mirrored the neighborhoods that had been redlined by federal banking regulators, going back to the 1930s.

Dr. Jeremy Hoffman, the Chief Scientist at the Science Museum of Virginia, joined CBS 6’s Bill Fitzgerald to discuss their findings.

Hoffman said it wasn’t necessarily a surprise that low-income areas were the hottest areas of Metro Richmond, but he said it was something of a shock that maps of the communities that were essentially shut out of the economic mainstream nearly a century ago, were identical to the maps his team was drawing.

“People from these particularly low- and limited-resource communities are repeatedly seen as those that are exposed to the warmest temperatures,” said Hoffman. “We've seen it in a bunch of cities around the country. What really was surprising, was the fact that how closely it aligned to the redlining maps from the 1930s, and just what that meant about our underlying land uses, such as tree canopy and impervious surface throughout the city.”

“These areas, typically have much more of the cement and brick and asphalt than they do trees,” Hoffman continued. “So that has huge cascading impacts on things like stormwater retention, flooding, and air quality in the same neighborhoods are really close to the interstates. [Studying this] provides a way into discussing the sorts of inequities that we experienced in our city.”

Hoffman also pointed out the health implications that are the result of exposure to higher temperatures.

“The interesting thing is that when we look at how cities’ COVID numbers have changed through time,” he said. “Those two tend to overlap with redlined communities and it all gets back to this idea that you know if you set the trajectory of a particular neighborhood with the housing or urban planning policy that can resonate and reverberate and echo for a century afterwards.”

He said in Richmond people can have ‘lived experiences’ that are remarkably different within the same couple miles.

“So what's great about some of the interventions that we can deploy, especially for urban heat, is that they tend to tackle a couple of the other things all at once,” Hoffman said. “Using green infrastructure- trees, parks, those sorts of things- actually end up cleaning the air, storing the stormwater, reducing flooding, all those sorts of things that kind of cascade in in the housing part of the story. But we truly need to ask for the input of these communities in what they want to see changed. They were left out of the decisions a century ago, and now let's look at the next century and figure out how we can use those planning processes to bring all voices to the table, especially those that have been silenced in the past.”

If you would like to learn more, you can follow Dr. Hoffman’s blog, “Throwing Shade in RVA.”