Between 1935 and 1940, the federal government through the U.S. Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) drew and issued maps of cities and towns all over the U.S. The purpose of these color-coded and annotated maps was to guide banking, lending, and insurance institutions as to the level of risk attached to the neighborhoods and districts of each subject city. Most homeowners, buyers, or developers in the “redlined” districts could not procure mortgages and financing at all, or only with the greatest difficulty. These maps were the crystallization of explicitly white supremacist and ultimately anti-urban ideas that those in power had been developing about cities and society, and in turn they became a self-fulfilling prophesy, an iron blueprint, for how cities would fare in the coming decades. In determining where and how residential construction would be financed—or not—the maps also determined every other aspect of the city: commercial development, schools, industrial areas, parks and public amenities, public transportation, roads and highways, utilities—in short, everything.
Although most building industry professionals are aware of the existence of these maps, few understand how deep, lasting, and present their many ill effects are. Not understanding this history, we tend to repeat it. It is long past time that we cast off our collective and individual ignorance, look carefully and in detail at these maps and their living, active legacy, and devise a new set of principles, policies and strategies to counter their poison and move us toward the rich and equitable city we all long for. That New York City is the most inclusive and dynamic place on earth is at the core of its founding mythology, and also its highest aspiration. To help break the hold that these maps still have on our city and society, we invite you to join us for an introductory lecture, and then to participate in a series of five structured roundtable discussions, each one of which will be devoted to the HOLC map for one of the five boroughs.
April De Simone, Co-founder, Designing for Democracy; Co-Founder, Designing the WE; Principal, Trahan Architects