Dec 12, 2023 - News

Richmond's redlining maps get their first update in 4 years

Richmond neighborhood values, according to the 1930s. Image: Courtesy of the Digital Scholarship Lab at the University of Richmond

The University of Richmond just released an updated version of its award-winning "Mapping Inequality" project.

What's happening: The release, out yesterday, is the third update to UR's redlining-focused interactive map project, which allows the public to explore the federal government's 1930s A-D, good-to-bad neighborhood grading system for more than 200 cities.

  • Race and ethnicity — or more specifically in Richmond and much of the nation, the presence of Black people in neighborhoods — largely determined the 1930s grade.
  • These "redlined" maps would ultimately be used for decades to deny mortgages to people of color and solidify segregation in cities across the country.

Why it matters: Since the project was first unveiled in 2016, 21st century researchers have used the maps to show how the New Deal-era discriminatory grading system affected economic inequality, urban development and even contributed to urban heat islands for decades.

Zoom in: Among the new features in this update are fresh introductions from scholars and historians for around 80 cities, including Richmond, Robert Nelson, the project's lead and director of UR's Digital Scholarship Lab, tells Axios.

  • In Richmond's new intro, which Nelson wrote, he noted that every Black neighborhood in Richmond was given a D — the lowest grade.

He also found that the local real estate broker tasked with grading Randolph, Gamble's Hill and Oregon Hill inflated the Black population in those neighborhoods, noting they were 95% Black, when in fact the Black people accounted for less than 40% of residents.

  • It appears that the agent tried to predict the future residents of the neighborhood, writing in his notes "negroes crowded out of D-1 are crowding white men out."
  • The prediction would also be inaccurate: Oregon Hill continues to be a majority white neighborhood.

Zoom out: The biggest update to the UR project is the addition of more than 100 new city maps, Nelson tells Axios.

The new cities are primarily smaller cities, like Burlington, Vermont and Sioux Falls, South Dakota — and in Virginia, Danville, Petersburg, Bristol, Harrisonburg and Staunton.

  • What's striking in the new maps, Nelson says, is how widespread nonwhite and non-native discrimination was across the country.

In Augusta, Maine, for example, agents labeled neighborhoods as "best," "good," "poor" and "French."

  • More research is needed — or even a conversation with someone from Augusta — to know the impact of the French label on lending practices, but it's likely from the distinction that it wasn't positive.
  • Included in the scanned map is a handwritten description that one French neighborhood was the "poorer French side."

Researchers also added Phoebus, Virginia — a town that's now a part of Hampton but in the 1930s was listed as "declining" in the great Norfolk map. The 1930s agents made Phoebus its own granular map with sections labeled "Best," "Fair," and "Negro."

Worth noting: The latest update also adds a search function for the neighborhood descriptions where agents often left some of their incendiary (and racist) remarks.

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