Why Louisville's redlining map gets high marks from Harvard

What's so compelling about what Louisville has done to raise awareness about redlining – the discriminatory lending practices that emerged in the 1930s – is the way it has connected the dots to show its lasting impact on the city and its citizens to this day. Along with the map's release earlier this year, the city is staging a series of community events to discuss that impact and gather input on revitalizing disadvantaged neighborhoods. It's another inspiring example of taking data and doing something very powerful with it. – Liz Enbysk


Jeana Dunlap, Louisville’s Director of Redevelopment Strategies, told Eric Bosco of Harvard's Ash Center that people are "blown away" by the map, which gives them the ability to see actual historical documentation of redlining practices overlaid with current data and neighborhood-specific information.

As the map itself explains:

The Home Owner's Loan Corporation (HOLC) was created in 1933 to aid the housing market during the Great Depression. The HOLC created residential securities maps, better known as "redlining maps," to guide investment in U.S. cities. These maps assigned grades 'A' through 'D' to neighborhoods to indicate their desirability for investment. Black, immigrant and low-income neighborhoods were often given grades of 'C' or 'D,' eliminating their access to mortgage insurance or credit for decades. Although the HOLC was discontinued in 1951, the impact of disinvestment resulting from redlining is still evident in most U.S. cities today.

“Our city defines compassion as providing citizens the tools and support necessary to reach their full human potential,” Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said when the map was released. “Through past and present forms of redlining, unnecessary hurdles are placed in front of some residents, keeping them from that potential. This map and data is meant to spark a community conversation that results in removing those hurdles.”

Dunlap suggests redlining is a topic that had not been discussed much openly in the community – at least until this year.

“Some of our neighborhoods need basic services or amenities that may be taken for granted in other areas of town," Dunlap said. "We hope to bring light to these challenges and find innovative ways to stimulate investment, stabilize housing conditions and improve overall quality of place for impacted areas.”

Redlining Louisville: The History of Race, Class, and Real Estate was tapped as the first winner of Harvard's new Map of the Month contest honoring best-in-class data visualizations created by governments at all levels and nonprofits.

Policy implications moving forward
Bosco writes that the Louisville map "was selected for its outstanding use of data combined from multiple sources, including historical data, its creativity and effective communication to the public, and the policy implications it is likely to have moving forward."

The map enables users to compare the historic redlining data from the 1930s with current census tract data detailing property values, race, vacant properties, home ownership and the like.

The redlining map actually stems from a research project that a local urban planner, Joshua Poe, started on his own several years back, looking into redlining in Louisville. Eventually he connected with Dunlap at the city and they moved Poe's development of the map forward.

Redlining still evident today
According to a city press release, examples of conventional redlining that still exist today include:

  • Refusal to provide delivery in certain areas
  • Business loan denials regardless of credit-worthiness
  • Refusal to write property insurance policies or dropping property owners from insurance coverage altogether

Reverse redlining, the city suggests, also exists. Examples include offering services to low-income residents at higher prices, higher interest rates and excessive service fees or inferior products.

"This tool illustrates the ways that redlining has affected housing development, disinvestment and lending patterns in Louisville since the 1930s," Poe said. "By layering data sets such as vacant properties, building permits and property values, the map shows how the intentional redlining that was devised in the 1930s has had consequences that are evident still today."

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This article is from the Council's Compassionate Cities initiative which highlights how city leaders and other stakeholders can leverage smart technologies to end suffering in their communities and give all citizens a route out of poverty. Click the Compassionate Cities box on our registration page to receive our weekly newsletter.

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