L.A. Times: Redlining Is Good for Diversity
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Diversity of birds, that is.

From the Los Angeles Times news section:

Credit jondoeforty1 on Flickr

Due to redlining, Boyle Heights has few trees and many sparrows

How L.A.’s bird population is shaped by historic redlining and racist loan practices

Photography by GENARO MOLINA
OCT. 11, 2023 3 AM PT

On a recent afternoon in L.A.’s Boyle Heights neighborhood, Christian Benitez and Eric M. Wood stood outside a corner liquor store searching for birds.

Boyle Heights, just east of downtown Los Angeles, was laid out densely in the later 19th century with small lots to squeeze in to provide modest single-family homes for workers to walk to work downtown. It was not a tenement district, but the homes were distinctly modest. My son shared a house there one cold winter that was about 800 square feet and lacked heating. Boyle Heights became a Jewish neighborhood in the early 20th century, and then as Jews moved west into nicer neighborhoods, it became all Mexican. Artists being squeezed out of downtown lofts tried to gentrify it a half-decade ago, but they appear to have been halted by anti-white racist hostility.

Not surprisingly, Boyle Heights doesn’t have many trees or many species of birds.

The researchers spotted a house sparrow and pulled binoculars to their eyes.

“They’re all over the shrubbery in Boyle Heights,” said Wood, an associate professor of ecology at Cal State Los Angeles.

Among the most ubiquitous and abundant songbirds in the world, house sparrows are urban creatures that thrive where people do. They’re resilient, adaptable and aggressive, and are found around buildings and streets, scavenging food crumbs or nesting in roof tiles.

Due to greenlining, San Marino (such as Huntington Gardens) has more trees of more kinds and more diverse birds

But less than 10 miles to the northeast, in the wealthy city of San Marino, house sparrows were nowhere to be heard.

San Marino was laid out in about 1910 by General Patton’s dad to be an exquisitely beautiful suburb for the wealthy. Its prime amenity is the 207-acre Huntington Gardens, with its famous diversity of foliage in its 16 different gardens depicting ecosystems from around the world. While it doesn’t have huge lots by Midwestern suburban standards, it’s highly spacious by Southern California standards, with huge trees.

San Marino’s current population density is about 1/4th to 1/5th that of Boyle Heights.

Instead of the sparrows, ravens, common pigeons and a Cooper’s hawk the bird watchers spotted in Boyle Heights, the manicured lawns and mature trees of San Marino bristled with a very different assortment of birds.

“There goes a band-tailed pigeon right over there,” Wood exclaimed, turning his attention from a red-tailed hawk. They also recognized acorn woodpeckers, a California towhee, dozens of turkey vultures circling overhead, a dark-eyed junco, a mockingbird, an Anna’s hummingbird and a black phoebe.

It was, the researchers said, a vivid illustration of the so-called luxury effect — the phenomenon by which wealthier, and typically whiter, areas attract a larger and more diverse population of birds.

San Marino is 24% white and 67% Asian. San Marino has been famously Asian since the early 1980s, when Chinese millionaires began chopping down century old oaks in their yards for stupid reasons of feng shui superstition. Fortunately, some sense was talked into their heads and San Marino still has a huge number of big trees.

… In fact, when it comes to the Los Angeles Basin, the researchers say that bird species are remarkably segregated.

In a new study, the researchers argue that the difference in bird populations is a lasting consequence of racist home lending practices from decades ago, as well as modern wealth disparities.

Past redlining practices affect bird diversity in L.A. County today

In the 1930s, banks used security risk maps to evaluate mortgage lending risks. Greenlined areas were deemed “best” for investment and were often white neighborhoods. Redlined zones were considered “hazardous” and were disproportionately non-white communities. Greenlined and wealthier areas are tied to more bird biodiversity.

Historically redlined nonwhite communities, such as Boyle Heights, have less tree canopy and greater housing density than greenlined neighborhoods. As a result, these areas have less bird biodiversity and larger populations of synanthropic birds—species adapted to dense urban environments such as house finches and sparrows, European starlings, common pigeons and northern mockingbirds.

Greenlined areas, on the other hand, have more trees and vegetation cover, which attract more birds and a greater diversity of them. Forest birds such as yellow-rumped warblers, band-tailed pigeons, acorn woodpeckers and black-throated gray warblers are more abundant in these areas, researchers found.
“The legacy of our discriminatory practices is still written into the city itself,” said study co-author Travis Longcore,

Longcore has to be a genre of metal, right?

an adjunct professor with the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability. “Even though those practices explicitly are outlawed, this city is an accretion of its history, and it doesn’t just go away because time has passed.”

During the Great Depression in the 1930s, the government-sponsored Home Owners’ Loan Corporation was established to stabilize the nation’s housing market. …

As part of the program, the corporation created security risk maps to evaluate mortgage lending risks. Greenlined areas were considered “best” for investment and tended to be white neighborhoods. Redlined zones were deemed “hazardous” and were disproportionately Black and other nonwhite communities.

OK, but FDR’s New Deal was a generation after San Marino was laid out with big lots with lots of room for trees and birds and two generations after Boyle Heights was laid out with small lots and not much room for birds besides sidewalk sparrows. So how did FDR travel back in time and force the turn-of-the-century developers to decide to make one an urban area suitable for sparrows and another a bucolic suburb suitable for yellow-rumped warblers?

Through the vast but hazy power of systemic racism, I guess.

People are always complaining about how their history teachers tried to make them learn a lot of pointless dates (and history teachers are always denying that dates are important). But if you learn dates, you’ll put forward a lot fewer stupid ideas about historical cause and effect, because half of all potential theories of how X caused Y are impossible because X happened after Y.

The L.A. Times reporter then interviews a BYU historian, who politely points out the flaw in her theory that Redlining Done It:

For Laura Redford, a history professor at Brigham Young University, the findings were no surprise.

“[The security risk maps] are indicative of trends that were already happening, and they codified things that were already in place,” said Redford, who has researched real estate development in L.A. from the early 20th century. “So the discrepancy in green space or in shrubbery, or the number of trees, those kinds of things, I think goes all the way back to how these spaces were developed and marketed in the first place.”

But the journalist doesn’t get the hint:

Although the lending program ended in the 1950s, its segregationist legacy still shapes the environment—and health—of area neighborhoods.
Other researchers have found strong links between historically redlined communities and increased risks of diabetes, hypertension and early mortality from heart disease. Redlined communities are also hotter and have more pollution and less canopy cover and green spaces than non-redlined regions, studies show.

San Marino and Pasadena, for example, have average tree canopy coverage of nearly 26% and 24%, respectively, according to an L.A. County tree canopy map. The median household income in San Marino between 2017 and 2021 was $174,722, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. … In comparison, Boyle Heights’ canopy cover is 12.6%, and the median income within the same time period was $69,778.

It’s almost as if a few rich people tend to be better for ecology than a lot of poor people.

In the paper, the authors write that if promoting urban biodiversity is a goal, “cities across the U.S. and the world must work to understand their racist and segregationist histories, which is a necessary step toward creating conditions that support urban wildlife along with a more equitable experience of wildlife for a city’s inhabitants.

Seriously, when they talk about “equity” what they mean is that they want to take your home equity in the near future as retribution for the murky and increasingly distant past.

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