SEATTLE — As the Pacific Northwest sweltered through a recent record-breaking heat wave, many residents here in America’s least air-conditioned city sought relief under the shade of cedars and maples in city parks. But in some areas of Seattle, that shelter was hard to come by.

“If you look at aerial photographs, north Seattle looks like a forest,” said Washington state Rep. Bill Ramos, a suburban Democrat who sponsored a bill the legislature recently passed to help cities improve their tree canopy.

“On the south side, you see nothing but rooftops and asphalt and not a green thing anywhere. It’s strictly a matter of socioeconomics and race.”

That disparity is not unique to Seattle. American Forests, a Washington, D.C.-based conservation nonprofit group, released a nationwide analysis last month showing that low-income neighborhoods and communities of color have significantly less tree canopy. Those areas also are more likely to suffer from the urban heat island effect caused by a lack of shade and an abundance of heat-absorbing asphalt. Heat islands can be as much as 10 degrees hotter than surrounding neighborhoods.

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