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Racial Residential Segregation in Greater Boston

Harvard Chan-NIEHS Center for Environmental Health

Environmental racism is a term coined by activists in the environmental justice movement. The term describes how policies and practices surrounding environmental hazards disproportionately burden Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities while privileging White and wealthier communities. The disproportionate burden of environmental hazards shouldered by poor and BIPOC communities is an inseparable product of and contributor to racial residential segregation. Racial residential segregation leads to unequal access to resources such as good schools, safe commutes, high-paying jobs, healthy food options, safe homes, green space, and clean air and water. This unequal access has direct, harmful consequences for the health and well-being of poor and BIPOC communities.

In 2020, perhaps more than any other year, Americans learned that place matters. Studies showed that COVID-19 mortality is linked to neighborhood characteristics, including segregation. They found that more segregated areas experienced higher overall Covid mortality and starker racial/ethnic disparities in Covid mortality compared to less segregated areas. So, how did our cities get so segregated? How has segregation affected the health and well-being of people in the Boston area? Most importantly, what can we do about it?

This page serves as the first in a several-part series on environmental racism in greater Boston. Here, we will explore the history and contemporary challenges of racial residential segregation. In later parts of the series, we will explore how environmental racism plays out in different areas of our lives.

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