Green Space Inequity in the Rust Belt: Lasting Impacts of early 20th Century Housing Practices?

Authors: Kirsten Beyer*, Medical College of Wisconsin
Topics: Medical and Health Geography, Environment, Urban and Regional Planning
Keywords: greenspace, rust belt, mortgage lending, urban geography, economic investment
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/13/2018
Start / End Time: 5:20 PM / 7:00 PM
Room: Jackson, Marriott, 5th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Greenspace has numerous health benefits, including reductions in mental fatigue and stress. However, greenspace is often distributed inequitably throughout urban areas, contributing to health disparities. Economic investment and housing policies are likely contributors to observed patterns of inequity in greenspace access. This inequity, and the importance of investment, is particularly relevant to America’s “rust belt” cities, which have witnessed deindustrialization, population loss, and economic decline. Between 1935 and 1940, the Home Owner’s Loan Corporation (HOLC) produced “security maps,” which were developed by mortgage lenders, developers and appraisers across the country to identify levels of lending risk across neighborhoods in many US cities. These maps reflect inequitable investment prior to 1935, and were used to guide investment afterward. Maps define regions of a city as: “best,” “still desirable,” “definitely declining,” and “hazardous.” We examine the degree to which these early 20th century categorizations predict levels of greenspace 70 years later. HOLC boundaries do not correspond to modern administrative boundaries, and areas designated in HOLC maps vary in size, necessitating a high resolution landcover dataset. The EPA Enviroatlas project has developed 1-meter landcover data for a number of metropolitan areas across the country. We obtained data for three US metropolitan areas located in the “rust belt,” for which both the HOLC and Enviroatlas data were available: Milwaukee WI, Cleveland OH, and Pittsburgh PA. The relationship between HOLC categories and modern day green cover is was analyzed statistically. We discuss the implications of study findings and opportunities for green infrastructure development.

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