Heating policy: poor district, hot district

The townspeople know this: With the hotter summers, it’s hard in a concrete jungle. In cities, mercury rises higher than in the immediate vicinity: the so-called ‘heat island effect’. City dwellers sweat extra on hot days among the paved roads, concrete buildings and paved footbridges, which attract heat and radiate it into the environment, while the high-rise buildings keep any wind out. If there is also a shortage of greenery, there is a lack of natural air conditioning. Trees use part of the solar radiation for a process where they evaporate water.

RIVM mapped the heat island effect. Cities such as Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht and Eindhoven form large red spots. On average, it will be more than two degrees warmer than in surrounding, greener places such as Landsmeer, Wassenaar and Soestduinen. If we zoom in further, there is something else that stands out: In the already warmer cities, neighborhoods with a lower socio-economic status often become a little warmer. So there are heat islands on heat islands.

The richer, the greener

A study that examined 25 cities worldwide showed that in more than 70 percent of these cities, mercury was higher in neighborhoods with lower middle-income than affluent neighborhoods – from Berlin to Copenhagen and from Los Angeles to Vancouver. In 2020, researchers at Wageningen University also confirmed this result for the Netherlands. They mapped the neighborhoods nationwide along the green meter, and the conclusion was: in the neighborhoods with the lowest socioeconomic status, only 28 percent of the population had green areas within a range of 250 meters, in the richer neighborhoods this was already 45 percent.

One of the researchers behind the study, senior social scientist Sjerp de Vries from Wageningen University, has marked The Hague’s neighborhoods from green to gray as an illustration. Then the 27 most gray neighborhoods in the city all turn out to be less prosperous neighborhoods – with Valkenboskwartier and Transvaalkwartier-Noord at the bottom with 4.4 and 5.6 percent green, respectively. Only in a 28th place of the least green neighborhoods in The Hague do we find a more affluent neighborhood.

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Kamerlingh Onnesplein in the ‘gray’ Valkenboskwartier district in The Hague.


Picture of:
Thijs de Lange

Not just green

The amount of green in a neighborhood is less important in combating warming than the question: what about the quality of the green? “Some trees cool better than others,” explains Jelle Hiemstra, researcher at Trees and Urban Greenery at Wageningen University. “The larger the tree, and the wider and denser the crown – the more shade and cooling effect.” Oak and ash are suitable – tall, wide and dense. “In cities, on the other hand, you see much smaller trees because there is no more space.”

In a green environment, fewer people take antidepressants

Anne Marie Cannoo, Adviser on Politics and Administrative Affairs for Public Space in Amsterdam, agrees that space is taken into account when allocating green space. “Is a street narrow or wide? Does the tree have a lot of room to grow, or do we eventually get angry messages that the tree is blocking windows?” For it is not only the type of wood that determines the quality, the attractiveness of the green also plays a role.In the Amsterdam districts Bijlmermeer and Nieuw-Westlaag, residents complained during street interviews with researchers about the poor quality of their green areas.

While these neighborhoods with low socioeconomic status actually have a lot of greenery, maintenance, according to residents, leaves something to be desired. This creates a bad reputation and a sense of insecurity. Parks are therefore only qualitative for wood researcher Hiemstra if they are also available and inviting for use. “Parks must radiate a sense of security, and there must be something to do. Only in that case will footpaths, cycle paths and, for example, a playground or a pond help. ”

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A playground in the green district Westbroekpark (The Hague).


Picture of:
Thijs de Lange

There is also a link between greenery and health. Marian Stuiver, a social scientist at Wageningen University and responsible for the Green Cities program, knows a lot of research that shows this connection. Although it is still a matter of guessing how and why, people respond positively to interaction with a green environment, such as walking or playing in the green, or with their fingers in the green. In addition, it has already been shown that green in the living environment can help prevent anxiety disorders and depression.

But it is often about the parks that, in contrast to the greenery of Bijlmermeer and Nieuw-West, invite people to meet, exercise and outdoor activities. Stuiver: “People with access to parks and other green space, for example, experienced less stress from the corona crisis. In addition, we see that a green environment within 250 meters around the house ensures that children are prescribed less medication for ADHD. ” Previously, it was found that the amount of trees on the street affects the use of antidepressants; the more trees, the fewer antidepressants the locals take.

Deadly heat

It is well known that heat is bad for health. The World Health Organization (WHO) even calls heat waves ‘one of the deadliest natural hazards’. More than 166 thousand people died of heat waves between 1998 and 2017, ‘including 70 thousand during the heat wave in Europe in 2003’. The actual death toll is probably higher because, for example, cardiovascular disease is recorded as the cause of death, not to mention heat that aggravated the problems.

In Richmond, Virginia, people in disadvantaged neighborhoods call the emergency services more often on extremely hot days than people from more affluent neighborhoods. For example, with heat stroke because the body does not cool down enough, or because underlying conditions such as cardiovascular disease worsen on extremely hot days. The four warmest neighborhoods in Richmond are the neighborhoods with the lowest incomes, the most colored, the least green, and the most heat-related ambulance trips.

In the vast majority of American cities, colored people live in warmer neighborhoods than white city dwellers

Colored people “do not get a fair share of what is good – parks, green spaces, nature trails, good schools, markets and good shopping,” said Professor Robert Bullard, also known as “the father of climate justice”, in an interview with The Guardian in 2018. “Of all the things that make a society healthy, they get less, while they get more of all the bad things.” Eg. landfills and facilities for the treatment of toxic waste – in France it has been shown that these are more often located in cities with a relatively high number of immigrants.

Racism in gray areas

In America, the relationship between racism and sparse green was mapped for so-called ‘redlined neighborhoods’. These ‘red-lined neighborhoods’ are on average 2.6 degrees warmer than surrounding neighborhoods. The term “redlined” dates back to the mid-20th century, when US banks pre-designated people from certain neighborhoods as “too risky” to borrow a mortgage – physical cards literally drew red lines around such neighborhoods. Not entirely coincidentally, these are neighborhoods where colored people primarily live then – and still do. As a result, the houses within the red lines were not bought or renovated, resulting in decay. The long-term consequence: In as many as 169 of the 175 largest cities in the United States, the average colored person lives in neighborhoods with a greater heat island effect than their white citizens.

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Trees and inequality Valkenboskwartier l Westbroekpark r

Children play football in Valkenboskwartier (v) and Westbroekpark (r).


Picture of:
Thijs de Lange

‘Inclusion’ is an often heard concept in this context. The European Green Deal, the political plan with which the European Commission aims to make the EU climate-neutral by 2050, prescribes a fair and ‘inclusive’ transition to a Europe where our green spaces are protected and strengthened, while all citizens are protected from natural disasters. .

Social scientist Stuiver also believes that inclusion is crucial. “It is important that the municipalities tackle this together with the residents. So they hear everyone’s wishes, conflicting interests and possible opposition instead of the green solutions from top to bottom throws it over society. ”

This article was previously published in another form in OneWorld Magazine June / July 2022. This is part 1 of a ditycon on green and inequality.

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