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Created by


Jun 15, 2021


70 minutes


6th, 7th, 8th


Social Studies, Justice, Health

Resource Language:


Regional Focus

North America, United States


Google Docs, Google Slides

Redlining & Environmental Racism

This environmental racism lesson plan connects redlining with current issues of environmental and racial justice. 

Step 1 - Inquire: Teacher shares useful framing and definitions. Then students will explore the Mapping Inequality tool.

Step 2 - Investigate: Students explore various environmental justice case studies in groups. Each case study includes a specific city and one of the following: asthma rates, extreme heat, air pollution, and urban tree cover. Students will connect redlining to their case studies.

Step 3 - Inspire: Students discuss how redlining is related to their case studies and what should be done about these issues. Finally, students complete a written reflection.
Accompanying Teaching Materials
35 minutes

  • Explanation and Framing (10 min)

    • Share an example map of redlining from Mapping Inequality. This map is of Cleveland, Ohio.

    • Facilitate a discussion with your students using these guiding questions:

      • What do you notice?

      • What do you wonder?

      • What do you think the colors mean?

      • Where do you think this is?

    • Explain to your students:

      • “We will take a look at some maps today while we learn about environmental justice. These maps are an example of systemic racism.”

    • Share definition of systemic racism:

      • "Systemic racism includes the complex array of antiblack practices, the unjustly gained political-economic power of whites, the continuing economic and other resource inequalities along racial lines, and the white racist ideologies and attitudes created to maintain and rationalize white privilege and power. Systemic here means that the core racist realities are manifested in each of society’s major parts [...] each major part of U.S. society—the economy, politics, education, religion, the family—reflects the fundamental reality of systemic racism." (Definition from sociologist Joe Feagin’s book Racist America: Roots, Current Realities, and Future Reparations [2001]) (Adapted by ThoughtCo)

    • Continue explaining to your students:

      • “These maps were created during the New Deal era in the United States in the 1930s and 1940s. We will explore a website called Mapping Inequality. Before we begin exploring, I want you to know that there’s certain language in here that is racist, harmful, and violent.”

    • Read from the Mapping Inequality Introduction.

      • Read the second half of paragraph 1, which reads:

        • “HOLC staff members, using data and evaluations organized by local real estate professionals-lenders, developers, and real estate appraisers-in each city, assigned grades to residential neighborhoods that reflected their "mortgage security" that would then be visualized on color-coded maps. Neighborhoods receiving the highest grade of "A"-colored green on the maps--were deemed minimal risks for banks and other mortgage lenders when they were determining who should receive loans and which areas in the city were safe investments. Those receiving the lowest grade of "D," colored red, were considered "hazardous."

      • Read all of paragraph 5, which reads:

        • As you explore the materials Mapping Inequality, you will quickly encounter [offensive] language, descriptions of the "infiltration" of what were quite often described as "subversive," "undesirable," "inharmonious," or "lower grade" populations, for they are everywhere in the HOLC archive. Of the Bedford–Stuyvesant in Brooklyn, for instance, agents explained that "Colored infiltration a definitely adverse influence on neighborhood desirability although Negroes will buy properties at fair prices and usually rent rooms." In the Tompkinsville neighborhood in Staten Island, "Italian infiltration depress residential desirability in this area." In a south Philadelphia neighborhood "Infiltration of Jewish into area have depressed values." The assessors of a Minneapolis neighborhood attributed the decline of a "once a very substantial and desirable area" to the "gradual infiltration of negroes and Asiatics." In Berkeley, California, an area north of UC Berkeley "could be classed as High Yellow [C], but for infiltration of Orientals and gradual infiltration of Negroes from south to north." Such judgments were made in cities from every region of the country. The "infiltration of negroes" informed the grades of neighborhoods in Birmingham, Oakland, Charlotte, Youngstown, Indianapolis, Cleveland, Los Angeles, and Chicago; the "infiltration of Jews" or "infiltration of Jewish families" in Los Angeles, Binghamton, Kansas City, and Chicago; the "infiltration of Italians" in Akron, Chicago, Cleveland, and Kansas City. The infiltration of Polish, Hungarian, Czech, Greek, Mexican, Russian, Slavic, and Syrian families was cataloged in other cities, always lowering the grade of neighborhoods.

      • Be sure to reiterate that this language is derogatory and offensive. These are primary documents from the 1930s and 1940s.

  • Group Exploration (15 min)

    • Place them in groups of 3-4. Students explore the Mapping Inequality tool.

      • Students should click “map options” and then “graded areas” to make it easier to use.

      • Students should click on a specific area and then click “show scan” to see the primary document.

    • Allow groups to explore anywhere in the United States.

    • Students write down noticings and wonderings as they explore as a group.

  • Full Class Discussion (10 min)

    • Students share noticings and wonderings with the entire class.

25 minutes
20 minutes
  • Facilitate a discussion with your students. (10 min)

    • Guiding question: “How do we address environmental injustice today?”

    • Students should reference what they’ve learned - redlining and their own case study.

    • Further questions for discussion:

      • “If you were in charge of x city, what would you do?”

      • “What actual policies would you enact - at the city, state, or federal level?”

  • Students complete a written reflection. (10 min)
Teaching Tips

  • This environmental racism lesson plan clearly connects redlining in the 1930s and environmental injustice today.
  • This lesson is extremely powerful because students make the connection between redlined areas and their case studies. It is nuanced and will not always line up perfectly. Overwhelmingly, however, neighborhoods that were redlined are experiencing environmental injustice - higher rates of asthma, unbearable heat, air pollution, and less tree cover. It is an incredibly meaningful "aha moment" for the students.
Additional Prerequisites
  • There might be some pushback with those who do not understand racism.
  • Students might think “I’m not racist.” But it’s important to know that racism exists whether one perpetrates individual racist acts or not.
  • For some background information and definitions, use this resource from Dr. Ibram X. Kendi’s book, How to Be an Antiracist.
  • It may be useful to discuss how climate change is a “threat multiplier.” For things like urban heat islands and urban tree cover, climate change makes inequities even worse.
  • It may be best to group students of different abilities when they are exploring their case studies.

  • If you live in the United States you can adapt case study #4 - the American Forests Tree Equity Score Map - to whichever major city is closest to your school. The lesson is designed for students to explore Philadelphia, but students can simply look at any other city to make the connection between redlining and urban tree cover.
Scientist Notes

  • College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Standards
    • Dimension 2: Civics
      • D2.Civ.1.6-8 Distinguish the powers and responsibilities of citizens, political parties, interest groups, and the media in a variety of governmental and nongovernmental contexts.
      • D2.Civ.6.6-8 Describe the roles of political, civil, and economic organizations in shaping people's lives.
      • D2.Civ.13.6-8 Analyze the purposes, implementation, and consequences of public policies in multiple settings.
    • Dimension 2: Economics
      • D2.Eco.1.6-8 Explain how economic decisions affect the well-being of individuals, businesses, and society.
    • Dimension 2: Geography
      • D2.Geo.2.6-8 Use maps, satellite images, photographs, and other representations to explain relationships between the locations of places and regions, and changes in their environmental characteristics.
      • D2.Geo.4.6-8 Explain how cultural patterns and economic decisions influence environments and the daily lives of people in both nearby and distant places.
    • Dimension 2: History
      • D2.His.1.6-8 Analyze connections among events and developments in broader historical contexts.
    • Dimension 4: Communicating and Critiquing Conclusions
      • D4.1.6-8 Construct arguments using claims and evidence from multiple sources, while acknowledging the strengths and limitations of the arguments.
    • Dimension 4: Taking Informed Action
      • D4.6.6-8 Draw on multiple disciplinary lenses to analyze how a specific problem can manifest itself at local, regional, and global levels over time, identifying its characteristics and causes, and the challenges and opportunities faced by those trying to address the problem.


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