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Working Papers

November 2022, No. 22-09R

Long-term Effects of Redlining on Environmental Risk Exposure (Revised November 2022)

Claire Conzelmann, Arianna Salazar-Miranda, Toan Phan and Jeremy S. Hoffman

Climate change exacerbates environmental risks such as intensifying extreme precipitation and heat events. Urban design, in turn, can further amplify these background climate stressors through the well-known urban heat island and rainfall effects, which are largely controlled by the local dominance of impervious land covers, surface roughness, and lack of mature tree canopy. While the extent to which present-day exposures and outcomes related to these climate-exacerbated environmental risks in urban areas can be linked to historical policies has received recent attention [1, 2, 3], causal inference within observed correlative associations has yet to be established. Here, we use a boundary design to estimate the persistent, causal effects of redlining on present-day exposure to climate change-exacerbated environmental risks in six large U.S. cities. Properties in areas assigned a lower-credit grade by the Home Owners' Loan Corporation in the 1930s have 3% higher exposure to flood risk and a 0.07F higher air temperature today compared to similar properties in higher-graded areas. We show that these differences are driven by lower tree canopy coverage and ground surface perviousness (important measures of environmental capital) in lower-graded areas. Our findings establish, for the first time, that the long-lasting effects of historical urban planning policies can be causally linked to present-day unequal exposures to climate risks.


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