Bus Tour Newsletter #24 – September 2022

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Did you know that September is National Preparedness Month? This month’s newsletter will highlight the inequitable impact of natural disasters and climate change on people living in different regions, and how sustainable land use planning can help with harm reduction.

Environmental Displacement

Around the world, natural disasters are becoming more common. Currently, one-third of Pakistan is under water due to flooding. Jackson, Mississippi is experiencing a severe water crisis, caused by historical and racist disinvestment in infrastructure, which has become a human rights issue.

One major effect of natural disasters in communities like these is environmental displacement. Environmental displacement occurs for several reasons and oftentimes causes migration. By one estimate from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), over 145 million people (about two percent of the world’s population) have been displaced over the past six years. The UNHCR also projects that environmentally induced displacement could affect 250 million more people over the next 35 years.

In Oregon, there are several climate-related factors that are increasingly putting buildings and infrastructures at risk. The many different physical and social components of the built environment are all interconnected. That means that any climate-related threat to one component indirectly affects the other interdependent components. 


Wildfires, for instance, threaten communication systems reliant on electricity as well as water distribution systems reliant on water resources and treatment infrastructure. In the coming years wildfires are projected to increase in frequency and extent, making watersheds more at-risk of flooding, erosion, and landslides. 

In Portland, the average temperature has been steadily increasing over time. With the high amount of pavement and the increasing number of heatwaves in the summertime, urban heat islands are becoming more common. The Lents, Hazelwood, and Parkrose neighborhoods are the hottest in all of Portland. Check out our August 2021 Bus Tour newsletter to learn more about the correlation between historically redlined neighborhoods and heat islands in Portland.

Inequitable Disaster Impact & Climate Resiliency

Low-income communities and communities of color often experience the highest level of risk from natural disasters due to housing discrimination and segregation. This 2021 report found that nearly one-third of all federally assisted housing stock experiences very high or relatively high risk from natural hazards. One way to mitigate the negative impact of natural disasters and climate change on low-income renters is to ensure that affordable housing is climate resilient.

Many state and local governments have created tools to support climate adaptation and preparedness. The Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development hosts a number of land use and transportation plans aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

In school districts located in heat islands, the lack of adequate air conditioning is a major detriment to learning. Disinvestment in infrastructure in schools located in low-income and formerly redlined neighborhoods over time has led to disparities in learning environments between school districts. Some schools have even switched to modified schedules and remote learning to avoid the heat.

In Portland school districts, school employees are trying to find creative ways to mitigate the negative impact of the heat on students. However, investing in infrastructure that is climate resilient is the best form of action to lessen these educational disparities.

Firefighters in Oregon. (Source: Photo by Benjamin Kerensa on Unsplash)

As a response to the increasing heat and wildfires, Oregon has adopted new heat and smoke rules for indoor and outdoor workers. Migrant workers from Mexico typically come to Portland in the summertime to escape the extreme heat back home. With record-breaking temperatures becoming the norm during Portland summers, conditions for migrant workers are increasingly more dangerous.

Metal-roofed houses that used to provide much-needed relief during heatwaves have now created even more dangerous indoor conditions for migrant workers. CASA of Oregon is one organization working to support migrant workers’ housing rights, including finding workers more permanent community-based housing rather than employment-based housing. 

Sustainable Land Use Planning and Practices

One tree mapping project shows that American neighborhoods with a majority of people of color have on average, 33% less tree canopy than majority-white communities and the poorest neighborhoods, where 90% of residents live in poverty, have 41% less coverage than the wealthiest ones.

Planting more trees and vegetation in low-income neighborhoods would help reduce the need for air conditioning, improve air quality, enhance stormwater management, and water quality, reduce pavement maintenance, and improve the overall quality of life for residents in a given area.  

Screenshot of Portland’s Tree Equity Score (Source: Tree Equity Score)

Reducing the size of parking lots is another way to help decrease heat islandsGreen roofs, or rooftop gardens, also help to mitigate the effects of heat islands in city environments. Cool roofs, that reflect sunlight and heat away from a building also help to reduce energy use, reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, and improve human health and comfort by reducing the overall internal temperature of buildings. Cool pavements that reflect more solar energy and enhance water evaporation also help to mitigate the impact of heat islands on communities.

Disaster Preparedness

Use these resources to prepare for natural disaster and climate related emergencies in Oregon:

Emergency Preparedness Resources

We want to hear from you

Is there a particular topic we discuss on the bus tour that you are interested in learning more about? Does your organization host events related to racial justice or other topics that come up on our bus tour? Email your events and ideas to information@fhco.org to have them included in our future newsletters.  

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