The racial/ethnic distribution of heat risk-related land cover in relation to residential segregation

Environ Health Perspect. 2013 Jul;121(7):811-7. doi: 10.1289/ehp.1205919. Epub 2013 May 14.


Objective: We examined the distribution of heat risk-related land cover (HRRLC) characteristics across racial/ethnic groups and degrees of residential segregation.

Methods: Block group-level tree canopy and impervious surface estimates were derived from the 2001 National Land Cover Dataset for densely populated urban areas of the United States and Puerto Rico, and linked to demographic characteristics from the 2000 Census. Racial/ethnic groups in a given block group were considered to live in HRRLC if at least half their population experienced the absence of tree canopy and at least half of the ground was covered by impervious surface (roofs, driveways, sidewalks, roads). Residential segregation was characterized for metropolitan areas in the United States and Puerto Rico using the multigroup dissimilarity index.

Results: After adjustment for ecoregion and precipitation, holding segregation level constant, non-Hispanic blacks were 52% more likely (95% CI: 37%, 69%), non-Hispanic Asians 32% more likely (95% CI: 18%, 47%), and Hispanics 21% more likely (95% CI: 8%, 35%) to live in HRRLC conditions compared with non-Hispanic whites. Within each racial/ethnic group, HRRLC conditions increased with increasing degrees of metropolitan area-level segregation. Further adjustment for home ownership and poverty did not substantially alter these results, but adjustment for population density and metropolitan area population attenuated the segregation effects, suggesting a mediating or confounding role.

Conclusions: Land cover was associated with segregation within each racial/ethnic group, which may be explained partly by the concentration of racial/ethnic minorities into densely populated neighborhoods within larger, more segregated cities. In anticipation of greater frequency and duration of extreme heat events, climate change adaptation strategies, such as planting trees in urban areas, should explicitly incorporate an environmental justice framework that addresses racial/ethnic disparities in HRRLC.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cities
  • Climate Change
  • Demography
  • Environment*
  • Hot Temperature
  • Humans
  • Puerto Rico
  • Residence Characteristics*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Trees / growth & development*
  • United States
  • Urban Population*