Feb 17, 2023 - News

"Undesign the Redline" exhibit opens in Columbus

Students point on a map on a red display that reads "Undesign the Redline"

Students visiting the Main Library read a map of Columbus neighborhoods that were redlined in the 1930s. Photos: Alissa Widman Neese/Axios

Mt. Vernon Avenue was once a bustling business hub for Columbus' Black residents, anchoring the tight-knit Bronzeville neighborhood during the segregation era.

  • Eventually, after decades of housing discrimination, the construction of I-71 sliced through the community. It was a devastating blow to what a former resident called the city's "center of African American life."

Why it matters: Discriminatory redlining in the 1930s led to historic disinvestment and disruption in Black neighborhoods — and the impact is still felt today.

  • "Undesign the Redline," now displayed at the Main Library, explores this history in Columbus and nationwide.
  • The exhibit offers solutions like reframing conversations, redesigning systems and reinvesting in communities.

The big picture: YWCA Columbus brought the traveling national exhibit here and created a committee of local experts to supplement it with historical documents, maps and local context, like the story of Mt. Vernon Avenue.

Flashback: A color-coded map of Columbus circa 1936 shows that neighborhoods of mostly poor and non-white residents were literally "redlined," or shaded red or yellow, and denied federal government-backed mortgage loans.

  • Green and blue areas — "desirable" places like Bexley, Clintonville and Upper Arlington — could access the funds.
  • It created a self-fulfilling prophecy. Redlined areas that declined from disinvestment were eventually targeted during interstate highway construction in the 1950s.

The bottom line: Columbus' highway system still snakes over mostly redlined areas today.

  • Meanwhile, loan-approved neighborhoods were unharmed, allowing residents to pass along property — and generational wealth — to their children.

What they're saying: "Housing today, and the way neighborhoods formed — it all comes back to this very intentional decision," Angela O'Neal, the library's manager of local history and genealogy, tells Axios.

  • "Most people are shocked. They haven't learned this history."

If you go: 96 S. Grant Ave. through March 15. On the first floor across from Carnegie's Cafe.

  • 9am-9pm Monday-Thursday, 9am-6pm Friday-Saturday, 1-5pm Sunday.
  • The library also hosts a panel discussion Saturday from 1-2:30pm.

💭 Alissa's thought bubble: This is an Ohio history lesson I wish I'd had in school — a thorough, comprehensive look at how events that can feel distant still affect the people of our community.

  • There's a lot of tough information to unpack, but a visit is well worth your time.
A story card on the exhibit explains redlining's association with gentrification today
A portion of "Undesign the Redline" explains redlining's association with gentrification today.
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