The Iron Triangle

History: Richmond, California’s one-square mile “Iron Triangle” is one of America’s toughest inner-city neighborhoods. Named for the three railroad tracks that define its borders, the Iron Triangle has struggled since the end of World War II, when Richmond’s famed Kaiser Shipyards – home to thousands of “Rosie the Riveters” – closed, leaving nearly half the population out of work, particularly African-Americans who had moved West to join the war effort.

Toxic Challenges: Iron Triangle residents face a “toxic cocktail” of challenges that are common for people living in disadvantaged communities: high levels of gun violence, widespread blight, no functional green spaces, poor-performing and beleaguered schools, no places to buy healthy foods, lack of jobs or training opportunities, a large re-entry population, and a toxic and unhealthy physical environment. 

Environmental Degredation: The two census tracts that make up the Iron Triangle neighborhood (3760 and 3770) lie directly adjacent to four of the Bay Area’s leading emitters of toxic air pollution (Chevron Refinery – the largest refinery west of the Mississippi  – BNSF Railway, Richmond Parkway, and Port of Richmond). Because of its close proximity to heavy industry, it is no surprise that Iron Triangle’s two census tracts rank in the top 10% of the most environmentally degraded of all 8,000 census tracts in California.

At-Risk Children: The 3,011 children under the age of 15 living here are among the most vulnerable in the nation. A child born in the Iron Triangle neighborhood will die 11 years earlier than a child born across the bay in an affluent San Francisco neighborhood. A large percentage of Iron Triangle children are being raised by single parents. In fact, 44% of families have only one adult living at home. A significant number of Iron Triangle residents are undocumented and live in constant fear of being deported.

When children of the Iron Triangle are old enough to attend school, the public schools that await them are among the poorest performing, lowest ranked in the state. After school, children suffer from a critical lack of safe and clean public spaces. Consequently, neighborhood children are literally trapped indoors, with, in the words of local residents, “nothing to do, nowhere to go.”

Disengaged Residents: Iron Triangle residents are also disengaged from public works projects that improve their neighborhood. Monies flow into the Iron Triangle to make physical improvements to the neighborhood (e.g. new community center, affordable housing etc.) – but those monies typically flow to expert designers and builders who make improvements “for” the people and then leave the community once the project is done.

Consequently, many Iron Triangle renewal projects fail to take hold. Oftentimes, new community development projects are vandalized or destroyed by the very people they are meant to serve. One community resident summed up this phenomenon as, “you can’t put a mink coat on a skunk.” In other words, improvements made to a neighborhood’s physical environment (i.e. the bones) don’t translate into making improvements to the community or its people (the spirit).

Population demographics: 13,224 residents comprised of 61% Latino and 24% Black ethnic makeup, and a shrinking 7% Asian and 6% white population.

Deep Poverty: 1/3rd of households live below the poverty line.

Gun Violence: Only a few years ago, Iron Triangle was ranked the 7th most violent neighborhood in the country.

High Unemployment Rate: 8.6% of residents are unemployed vs. a national average of 5%, and CA state average of 6.3%. While more than 32% do not participate in the labor force, compared with 22% nationwide.

Poorest-Performing Schools: Local schools are ranked in the lowest 10% in California, with only 3% of 5th graders meeting state standards in math, and a only 7% meeting basic English proficiency standards. This compares with an average of 80% meeting standards in nearby East Bay Counties.

Adults with Limited Education: Over 41% of the adult population has not completed high school, compared with a low 1% in nearby city of Albany. Less than 5% of parents have college degrees.

Cultural Isolation: 25% of adults have a limited proficiency in English compared with an 8% national average. An average of 60% of Iron Triangle children speak English as a second language.

Negative Health effects: 51% of Richmond children are considered overweight or obese. Richmond was ranked #5 of all California cities for obesity. In Iron Triangle schools, over 50% of 5th grade students do not meet basic physical fitness standards.

Food Insecurity: With only one basic grocery store located in the Iron Triangle, the area receives low rating for its poor access to nutritious foods, contributing to substandard health conditions. Often parents cannot obtain quality food products, as 27% of residents do not have access to a car.