There’s nothing like a New York Times headline proclaiming that the streets of East Harlem are over 30 degrees hotter than the streets in the Upper West Side, to really drive home the absurdity of housing segregation.
Why might you ask, would the streets in a predominantly Black and Brown neighborhood in New York be so much hotter than those in a predominantly-white neighborhood within walking distance? Well, it’s because the city prioritized planting trees in white neighborhoods over Black and Brown ones.
And as it turns out, tree cover is crucial to keeping neighborhoods cool.
The history of why housing segregation is so persistent in the United States and what led to atrocious lack of investment in Black communities is super long. (I recommend checking out When Affirmative Action Was White and The Color of the Law, if you want to know more). But let’s just say redlining – a policy that devalued neighborhoods with Black residents and discouraged banks and sellers from lending to or selling homes to Black Americans, did not help.
But does housing segregation actually have that much of an impact on the lives of Black Americans, according to a study from the Harvard T.H Chan School of Public Health, NPR, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the answer is yes.
The study, obtained by The Root, found that Black Americans who live in predominantly minority neighborhoods face significantly more disadvantages than Black Americans who live in predominantly-white neighborhoods.
Since we started off talking about green space, let’s look at access to parks, playgrounds, and clean air.
Roughly 44 percent of Black adults living in predominantly minority neighborhoods said that there was a lack of safe spaces for children to play compared to just 23 percent of Black adults in predominantly-white neighborhoods.
Black adults living in minority neighborhoods were also nearly twice as likely to say that air quality was a serious problem in their neighborhoods as Black adults living in white neighborhoods.
Concerns over crime also heightened in predominantly minority neighborhoods. Twice as many Black American in predominantly minority communities claimed that crime was a serious problem as Black Americans in predominantly-white neighborhoods.
Access to banking was another major difference. Black adults living in white neighborhoods were 2.5 times more likely to say they had a bank account than Black adults in minority neighborhoods.
What this study drives home is that Black Americans don’t do better in white neighborhoods because white people are inherently better neighbors, but because white communities have been deemed worthy of investment.
And as racial segregation in the united states continues to deepen, studies like this shine a glaring light on the consequences.