Courtesy “Mapping Inequality” database

Earlier this year, Johns Hopkins University historian N.D.B. Connolly worked with researchers from a handful of schools to assemble an online map archive showing evidence of government-abetted redlining. A writer for National Geographic took notice, including it in his list of the top maps produced this year.

Connolly worked on the “Mapping Inequality” database, which focuses on the troubling American historical trend of redlining. For those who are unfamiliar, redlining happens when those in charge of setting investment risk grades for communities so in a discriminatory manner that discourages lending for potential homeowners trying to buy in minority neighborhoods. Drawing on an archive of New Deal-era documents from the from the federal Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC), Connolly and his team compiled the concrete evidence that this was happening at the federal level.

Once available only on paper, hundreds of maps and notes from the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation are now available to the public here. According to JHU Hub, the records show “the agency’s officials blatantly relied on racial and socioeconomic factors to rate the investment risks of different neighborhoods, preventing many potential homeowners from taking out loans.” (Private entities like banks and real estate agents later picked up the discriminatory slack for the HOLC, which was disbanded in 1951 after just 18 years.)

Looking at the above map, Baltimore is a clear example of how these decisions influenced unequal development in cities for the next eight decades. Areas of East and West Baltimore, along with South Baltimore as a whole, are color-coded as “hazardous,” while northern regions of the city have higher concentrations of “still desirable and “best” ratings for investment.

Greg Miller, a co-author for Nat Geo’s “All over the Map” blog, compiled a list of the 15 best maps of 2016. He found Connolly’s work to be worthy of the label. Miller noted in his entry for “Mapping Inequality” that the “interactive database launched this year allows anyone to search hundreds of maps and documents that contributed to housing discrimination beginning in the 1930s.”

Connolly told Johns Hopkins Magazine for its winter issue that “part of what’s interesting about the project is just getting to think through what people’s popular narratives are today about segregation and redlining.”

“What do people know?” he asked. “And how can showing these HOLC maps add to that general understanding?”

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Ethan McLeod

Ethan McLeod is a freelance reporter in Baltimore. He previously worked as an editor for the Baltimore Business Journal and Baltimore Fishbowl. His work has appeared in Bloomberg CityLab, Next City and...