Every weekday at 6am, 68-year-old Ana Adelea-Lopez walks through her Houston neighborhood to the bus stop.
On the way, she passes a series of apartment complexes, telephone poles and metal fences on a long stretch of sidewalk. For the entirety of her walk, there’s not a single tree in sight.
“You can’t even be on the street because of the heat,” said Adelea-Lopez who takes the bus to her seamstress job. “There aren’t a lot of trees. There are a lot of apartments. A lot of cement.”
Houston is a city of extreme heat: the hottest daily temperature last August peaked at 100F (38C). But like many other US metropolitan areas, how much heat you endure depends largely on where you live. That’s because Houston is a tale of two cities: one is sprawling with greenery, public parks and hundred-year-old oak trees, all of which can help mitigate the heat. The other is a bevy of strip malls stackedon top of concrete – which produces and absorbs more heat throughout the day.
Adelea-Lopez lives in the latter: her neighborhood Sharpstown is sandwiched between two highways and features apartment complexes that offer little green space. And this absence of tree-lined streets is indicative of socioeconomic and health disparities that exist throughout Houston.
Sharpstown isn’t the only tree-poor, overheating neighborhood in Houston. In the city as a whole, and in cities across the US, from Chicago to Jacksonville, there are fewer trees in poorer neighborhoods. Trees, and the shade they provide, are actually markers of race and class.