According to the US Global Change Research Program, the Hartford area has experienced about nine more days above 90 degrees in recent years than it did 40 years prior. Unfortunately, Hartford is not the only Connecticut city experiencing an increase in heat waves, which can bring danger for those who have health issues or do not have access to air conditioning. In fact, cities are almost always hotter than the surrounding rural area due to the replacing of natural land cover with larger tracts of pavement, buildings, and other surfaces that absorb and retain heat. As climate change exacerbates the issue with an increase in extreme heat events, climate scientists are beginning to view trees as critical infrastructure in neighborhoods to keep temperatures down and reduce energy costs for cooling.
In my climate resiliency and hazard mitigation planning work, I came across a movement created by American Forests to calculate Tree Equity Scores for urban neighborhoods across the country. While many see the aesthetic value of trees in a neighborhood, the iniquitous distribution of trees in urban areas, such as Hartford and New Haven, can determine who will face the consequences of climate change first in our cities. Through my research, I hope to use GIS mapping to compare maps of tree cover in these cities to historical Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) “redlining” maps, which bolstered the segregated structure of American cities, to evaluate to what extent racist zoning and discriminatory housing practices have increased vulnerability to climate impacts in predominantly Black and Brown neighborhoods.
Through the Partnership for Strong Communities’ Research Associates Program I have been given the opportunity to explore redlining’s lasting impact on Hartford and New Haven through the lens of climate justice and environmental inequality. For more information on this project and to hear from other research associates, you can register for Connecticut’s Affordable Housing Conference and join in at 12:30 pm on Monday, November 15th.
Alexis Meehan works as a regional planner at Northeastern Connecticut Council of Governments.