Undesign the Redline is a framework for unearthing our most deep, systemic and entangled crises. This interactive exhibit, workshop series and curriculum explores the history of structural racism and classism, how these designs compounded each other from 1938 Redlining maps until today, and how WE can come together to undesign these systems with intentionality.
The signature piece of the Undesign the Redline project, the traveling exhibit invites participants to learn the history, interact with the stories and invent the future of undoing structural inequities. Become a part of a larger conversation, as many of the elements of the exhibit have been inspired by and added to by those who have visited previous installations. To Undesign Redlining, we need to connect all of these people and places.
Redlining maps were introduced in the 1930s. Originally a federal policy, the maps were meant to show risk areas for federal backing of newly invented home ownership programs that would transform the American middle class.
The maps determined areas prime for investment and areas where no money would be lent. The neighborhoods where no investment would go were outlined in red. This shade was based almost entirely on race. They referred to these areas as “infiltrated” by “hazardous populations.”
Redlining was how structural racism was designed into cities. It shifted segregation from visible superstructure to ubiquitous infrastructure: further isolating communities even while ‘colored only’ signs came down. Soon without access to banking, insurance or even healthcare, these marginalized groups were forced on a path of “urban decay,” accelerated by programs like Urban Renewal and Slum Clearance.
By many means, this American geography became a machine for reproducing a racially and class divided society. Investment drained from concentrated ‘inner city’ zones of poverty, mostly comprised of people of color, while investment poured into the rapidly expanding wealthier, whiter suburbs. This type of structural, geographic design alters what is possible in the decades that follow.
We still need to Undesign Redline. Today, even when money flows back into once- Redlined zones, the tide of investment cannot raise all boats. It washes people away. Broad wealth building still does not reach those of us who have been historically devalued.
Instead, we are faced with a legacy of lingering bias, living with the scarlet letter of Redlining, and its cross-generational effects on wealth, income, well being and ownership.