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A few years ago, climate scientist Jeremy Hoffman and his team at the Science Museum of Virginia looked at which neighborhoods in Richmond got hottest in the summer.

They also looked at Norfolk. And Baltimore. And Denver. And another hundred or so cities across the county.

They found the same thing, over and over: Temperatures can vary by as much as 20 degrees between neighborhoods in the same city.

Shade is one of the biggest factors.

“Largely the warmest places are those places with the fewest trees, the widest streets, the very shortest buildings,” Hoffman said.

But the blockbuster finding was that it’s not random which neighborhoods have the least shade.

“Those areas also tended to be poorer, lower income communities of color in our region,” Hoffman said.

The analysis done by Hoffman found that the hottest areas of the cities he looked at line up neatly with formerly redlined neighborhoods.

Redlining was the process by the federal government that flagged minority neighborhoods as “risky” areas for investment in the 1930s. 

That meant homeowners in those Black and Brown neighborhoods couldn’t get home loans, which led to a cycle of disinvestment that still impacts those neighborhoods today.

Looking at maps of Norfolk alongside heat research, a similar pattern emerged here that Hoffman flagged elsewhere. Minority areas that were rated low on federal maps in the 1930s tend to be hotter today than nearby areas that were rated highly.

Extreme heat kills more people annually than any other weather event. When heat mounts in lower income communities, those living there are less likely to have working air conditioning and more likely to have existing medical conditions.

And the march of climate change is causing hotter and hotter heat waves and longer summers.

Hoffman shared his research at Christopher Newport University this week to kick off a conference on social justice hosted by the college’s Center for Crime, Equity and Justice Research and Policy.

He told an audience of academics, activists and elected officials that these problems aren’t solved by looking through just one lens.

“If you don't think about how climate change interacts with things like transportation or housing or food … then you might inadvertently cause more issues and create a problem when there wasn't one before,” Hoffman said.

He said one important key to crafting solutions to these problems will be having the people who are impacted at the table.