The tool visualizes the impact of red lines on public health

The long-term, systemic consequences of structural racism can be a challenge to see, quantify and communicate. But an online tool developed by Jaime Madrigano, an associate professor in the Department of Health and Environmental Engineering at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, aims to do all three.

“Racism in the Environment: A Tool for Exploring the Permanent Heritage of Red Lines in the Urban Environment” allows users to visualize the link between 14 modern environmental metrics and the practice of the “red line” that took place in the 1930s.

“Redlining was a discriminatory practice that denied access to credit to people in neighborhoods who were considered ‘dangerous’ because of minority and immigrant populations, low-quality housing and other factors,” said Madrigano, who developed the tool with colleagues at RAND Corporation. . The neighborhoods were placed in one of four categories: Type A (Best), Type B (Still Desirable), Type C (Definitely Descending) and Type D (Dangerous), with the corresponding color codes of green, blue, yellow and red. , respectively. The categories were created by the Homeowners Loan Corporation under the auspices of the federal government. Credit institutions used corporation codes and similar tools to make lending decisions. As a result, people living in Type D neighborhoods have been denied access to mortgages and other economic opportunities.

“We wanted to steer the conversation away from environmental differences by race or income and focus on actions which led to them. These were deliberate actions, policies and practices and had long-term financial and health consequences. ”

Jaime Madrigano

Associate Professor, Department of Health and Environmental Engineering

“These practices have had a lasting impact,” says Madrigano. “Certain sections of the population did not have access to mortgages, so they did not have access to home ownership, which is actually the way most Americans build personal wealth and intergenerational wealth. These practices have led to ingrained poverty and systemic, disproportionate burdens tormenting the same populations over and over again. “

The tool allows users to combine a map from the National Archives depicting any of the approximately 200 communities in the United States for which red line data is available with models of current environmental hazards and amenities such as air pollution, green spaces and other environmental indicators.

The instrument’s documentation cites literature linking these environmental factors to related health effects. For example, he cites numerous studies that show a strong link between exposure to air pollution and reduced life expectancy, as well as respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.

Image caption: This map shows that the worst rated neighborhoods within the Homeowners Loan Corporation (outlined in red) have the highest exposure to diesel particulate matter, while the highest rated neighborhoods within the Homeowners’ Loan Corporation loan to homeowners (outlined in green) experience among the lowest exposures of diesel particulate matter.

The image credit: Racism in the Environment: A Tool for the Study of the Permanent Heritage of the Red Lines of the Urban Environment

Madrigano and her team deliberately included the term “environmental racism” in the title of the instrument. It defines the concept as an unfair distribution of environmental burdens and conveniences caused by deliberate policies and practices, past and present.

“Some people get goosebumps when they hear that term,” says Madrigano. “But we wanted to steer the conversation away from environmental differences by race or income and focus on actions which led to them. These were deliberate actions, policies and practices and had long-term financial and health consequences. “

For Madrigano, the most important conclusion of the instrument is that environmental health is intertwined with housing, transport, infrastructure and planning, and she believes that instruments such as hers can help educate consumers about these links.

“Environment, sustainability and climate change are holistic issues that need to be addressed by many sectors and stakeholders,” said Madrigano. “When we talk about environmental health inequalities today, we want to think about deliberate actions that can remove these unjust burdens.”

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