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American History: 1865-Present, Government, Human Geography, Racial Justice


6th, 7th, 8th


Social Studies, Civics, History, Geography, Justice


85 minutes

Regional Focus

North America, United States


Google Docs, Google Slides


This lesson plan is licensed under Creative Commons.

Creative Commons License

Redlining, Tree Equity, and Environmental Racism

Created By Teachers:
Last Updated:
Dec 9, 2022

In this lesson, students learn how redlining connects to tree equity and racial justice.


Step 1 - Inquire: Students learn definitions of redlining and systemic racism and explore the Mapping Inequality tool.


Step 2 - Investigate: Students explore the connection between redlining and tree equity.


Step 3 - Inspire: Students share their new knowledge, discuss possible solutions to environmental inequality, and complete a written reflection.


  • This lesson provides a clear story between redlining in the 1930s and environmental injustice seen today.

  • This lesson shows students a tangible effect of systemic racism.

  • Students are given voice and choice in this lesson.

  • Students are empowered to think about solutions to environmental injustice.

Additional Prerequisites

  • Students should have some basic understanding that racism exists whether one perpetrates individual racist acts or not.

  • Students should have some basic understanding that systems or policies can be racist.


  • Extension activities can have students explore other forms of environmental injustice stemming from redlining. Examples include health issues, air pollution, urban heat, industrial pollution, water quality, etc.

  • Student groups can pair up to compare and contrast different regions in New Jersey.

  • Students can research policies or movements in addressing redlining in New Jersey.

  • Students can research the relationship between redlining and voter suppression.

This lesson introduces the concepts of redlining, tree equity, and environmental racism to students. It walks students through the history of these practices and how the effects of these policies are still seen today. The links all provide detailed information about where their data is from and have been reviewed for accuracy. This resource is recommended for teaching.

  • Teacher shares an example map of redlining from Mapping Inequality. The map is of Cleveland, Ohio.

  • Teacher facilitates a discussion with 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?

  • Teacher explains to students:

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

    • “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.”

  • Teacher reads aloud from the Mapping Inequality Introduction.

    • Second half of paragraph 1: “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."”

    • All of paragraph 5: “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.

  • Teacher puts students in groups of 3-4. 

  • Students explore the Mapping Inequality tool.

    • Students type “New Jersey” in the search box and pick from one of the seven options.

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

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

    • As a group, students write down three things they notice and three things they wonder.

  • Teacher leads a discussion with the whole class.

  • Teacher reads a definition of redlining and answers any student questions.

    • Redlining (n) - illegal discriminatory practice in which a mortgage lender denies loans or an insurance provider restricts services to certain areas of a community, often because of the racial characteristics of the applicant’s neighborhood

    • Students demonstrate their understanding by finishing this sentence in their own words: “I understand that redlining is…”

  • Teacher places students in groups of 3-4 to read through the following sources. As a group, students jot down 3 things they learned, 2 observations, and 1 question.

  • In their same groups, students explore the connection between redlining and environmental injustice using the tree equity interactive map called Tree Equity Score.

    • Teacher reads the introduction about tree equity on the About page: “A map of tree cover in any city in the United States is too often a map of race and income. This is unacceptable. Trees are critical infrastructure that every person in every neighborhood deserves. Trees can help address damaging environmental inequities like air pollution.”

    • Groups of students analyze the same city they looked at in the Inquire section.

    • Groups find a redlined neighborhood and a non-redlined neighborhood to compare information.

    • Each group takes notes on the Student Document. 

    • Students compare and contrast the two neighborhoods, identifying what they notice and what they wonder.

  • Teacher leads a whole class discussion using the following prompts:

    • What is one thing you learned?

    • What do you still wonder?

    • If you were in charge of one of these cities, what would you do?

    • What actual policies would you enact at the city or state level?

    • How should we address environmental injustice today?

  • Based on student research and class discussions, students write a final reflection answering two prompts:

    • Explain the specific connection between redlining and tree inequity.

    • Explain one possible solution.

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