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In the shade of affluence: the inequitable distribution of the urban heat island

Equity and the Environment

ISBN: 978-0-7623-1417-1, eISBN: 978-1-84950-488-1

Publication date: 12 December 2007


The urban heat island is an unintended consequence of humans building upon rural and native landscapes. We hypothesized that variations in vegetation and land use patterns across an urbanizing regional landscape would produce a temperature distribution that was spatially heterogeneous and correlated with the social characteristics of urban neighborhoods. Using biophysical and social data scaled to conform to US census geography, we found that affluent whites were more likely to live in vegetated and less climatically stressed neighborhoods than low-income Latinos in Phoenix, Arizona. Affluent neighborhoods had cooler summer temperatures that reduced exposure to outdoor heat-related health risks, especially during a heat wave period. In addition to being warmer, poorer neighborhoods lacked critical resources in their physical and social environments to help them cope with extreme heat. Increased average temperatures due to climate change are expected to exacerbate the impacts of urban heat islands.


Harlan, S.L., Brazel, A.J., Darrel Jenerette, G., Jones, N.S., Larsen, L., Prashad, L. and Stefanov, W.L. (2007), "In the shade of affluence: the inequitable distribution of the urban heat island", Wilkinson, R.C. and Freudenburg, W.R. (Ed.) Equity and the Environment (Research in Social Problems and Public Policy, Vol. 15), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 173-202.



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