From the Los Angeles Times:
How white and affluent drivers are polluting the air breathed by L.A.’s people of color
BY SAMMY ROTH STAFF WRITER
MARCH 9, 2023 6 AM PT
… So I couldn’t help but consider my own complicity while reading a new study from USC researchers, finding that Angelenos who drive more tend to be exposed to less air pollution—and Angelenos who drive less tend to be exposed to more pollution.
It may sound like a paradox, but it’s not. It’s a function of the racism that shaped this city and its suburbs, and continues to influence our daily lives—and a stark reminder of the need for climate solutions that benefit everyone.
My colleague Terry Castleman wrote about the study, which was published in the peer-reviewed journal Urban Studies. The core finding is that for every 1% increase in miles driven to and from work by people who live in a particular part of L.A. County, there’s an estimated 0.62% decrease in the lung-damaging “fine particulate matter” to which those Angelenos are exposed.
How is that possible? I asked the study’s lead author, Geoff Boeing, a professor at the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy.
He told me it largely comes down to the shameful history of Los Angeles County’s low-income communities of color being torn apart to make way for freeways—a history that has been extensively documented by The Times. Today, many residents of the county’s whiter, more affluent neighborhoods—who were often able to keep highways out of their own backyards—commute to work through lower-income Black and Latino neighborhoods bisected by the 10, 110 and 105 freeways and more.
Today’s popular Racist Roads mythology rests in sizable part on forgetting that when freeways were racistly planned, mostly around 1950 in Southern California, practically every neighborhood was a white neighborhood. The notion that freeway building was a racist conspiracy doesn’t make sense if you know anything about the demographics of 1950. Los Angeles County (which is bigger than the city of Los Angeles) was said to be 93% white in the 1950 Census. (Granted, in the 1950 and 1960 Censuses, Mexicans were listed as white due to Mexican demands and white liberal accommodation.) For example, in 1950 Compton was home to two future U.S. Presidents.
And it’s not like freeways are innately a massive blight on neighborhoods. I live four blocks from a freeway, and the only downscaling effect I ever noticed was on the one side of the street up against the freeway. And now even that side of the street is seeing tear-downs and massive new houses going up. What matters vastly more to property values is who lives near the freeway, just as it matters vastly more far from freeways.
If there weren’t any freeways built through black neighborhoods, then we’d be reading about how that was a racist conspiracy to keep blacks from driving to the good jobs out of fear that they’d drive to white neighborhoods and burglarize them.
“It’s not like commuters are coming in and shopping in those communities, patronizing restaurants,” Boeing said. “They’re just driving through to get from one side of the city to the other.”
The freeways should be like in medieval Europe or modern Africa, with local armed men stopping you every few miles and demanding a toll.
Seriously, back when Southern California had a really serious air pollution problem, back around, say, 1980, the general pattern was for smog emitted in black South Central Los Angeles to be wafted by ocean breezes into the much whiter and much smoggier San Gabriel Valley and Inland Empire.
But it’s really hard to remember counter-Narrative subversive facts.
Boeing’s family moved to South Pasadena—the “ultimate suburban flight story,” as he put it, and a place with a “terrible racial history.”
South Pasadena is great. We used to get invited to the annual football parents party at this South Pasadena house that the family had rented out one summer to the film crew making Mr. and Mrs. Smith, where Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie got together.
… As a white guy who’s lived on L.A.’s Westside for most of my life, I’ve benefited from the region’s sordid history as well.
…Boeing was careful to note that the study doesn’t conclusively prove that patterns in how Angelenos get to work are solely responsible for different levels of air pollution in different communities. Majority-white Westside neighborhoods, for instance, could also be benefiting from ocean breezes that push pollution into predominantly Black and Latino areas, he said.
And from there into even more inland suburban and exurban areas.