A powerful new map of the city shows how its current poverty rates match up to racist mortgage policies of the past.

In the wake of Freddie Gray's death and the civil unrest sweeping Baltimore, it is vital to reflect on the city's history of deep racial and economic inequality.

As Emily Badger at the Washington Post points out, just a few years ago, black families were disproportionately targeted by subprime mortgage lenders. In the '80s and '90s, the city was swept by a crack epidemic, mass incarceration, and a loss of blue-collar jobs. The decades prior saw tens of thousands of black Baltimore families displaced by the construction of new highways and housing projects under the guise of "urban renewal."

And before that, Badger writes:

... if we go way back — there was redlining, the earlier corollary to subprime lending in which banks refused to lend at all in neighborhoods that federally backed officials had identified as having "undesirable racial concentrations."

Redlining has become the catch-all term to describe the Home Owners' Loan Corporation's attempt to assess mortgage-lending risk in hundreds of American cities. As I wrote in an earlier post on the practice,

Neighborhood by neighborhood, the HOLC gathered reams of information: terrain, type and age of buildings, sales and rental demand, and about the "threat of infiltration of foreign-born, negro, or lower grade population." Then they mapped this data, using a color code to delineate neighborhoods—from desirable "hot spots" in green to "high risk" blocks in red.

Redlining left black families out of the mortgage market. It left them vulnerable to predatory lenders. Most of all, it propagated a cycle of inequality, which many poor, black Baltimore residents still find themselves in today.

The map above, created by cartographer and data analyst Evan Tachovsky, is a powerful testament to this fact. By layering the latest Census data on top of the HOLC's old map of Baltimore, the map reveals a striking alignment of today's poverty rates and the Nuremberg-like government mortgaging practices of the 1930s. Here's how to read it:

On the Census layer, dark grey areas are above the poverty line while light grey areas are below the poverty line. On the HOLC layer, green areas are Grade A (“highly desirable”), blue are Grade B (“somewhat desirable”), yellow are Grade C (“declining”), and red are Grade D (“to be avoided”). Use zoom to navigate between the two layers or the search box to go to a specific address.

And as Tachovsky's other maps show, the connection between decades of racist policy and contemporary injustice isn't unique to Baltimore.

"They’re not separate—they’re inextricably linked," Mindy Fullilove, a social psychiatrist at Columbia University told Badger. "And it’s the cumulative downward force of this on social organization that's the stunning thing to be accounted for."

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. People wait in line, holding tote bags in the sunshine, outside a job fair.
    Equity

    How 3 Skill Sets Explain U.S. Economic Geography

    Metro areas in the U.S. with higher cognitive and people skills, versus motor skills, perform better economically and are more resilient during downturns.

  2. Life

    The Future of the City Is Childless

    America’s urban rebirth is missing something key—actual births.

  3. a photo of the First Pasadena State Bank building, designed by Texas modernist architects MacKie and Kamrath. It will be demolished on July 21.
    Design

    The Lonely Death of a South Texas Skyscraper

    The First Pasadena State Bank, a 12-story modernist tower inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright, has dominated this small town near Houston since 1962.

  4. The legs of a crash-test dummy.
    Transportation

    A Clue to the Reason for Women’s Pervasive Car-Safety Problem

    Crash-test dummies are typically models of an average man. Women are 73 percent more likely to be injured in a car accident. These things are probably connected.

  5. A NASA rendering of a moon base with lunar rover from 1986.
    Life

    We Were Promised Moon Cities

    It’s been 50 years since Apollo 11 put humans on the surface of the moon. Why didn’t we stay and build a more permanent lunar base? Lots of reasons.

×