Louisville’s Award-Winning Redlining Map Helps Drive Digital Inclusion Efforts

The map visualizes instances of systematic oppression through history, drawing correlations between neighborhoods that lack digital equity.

by / July 25, 2017
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Louisville, Ky., has garnered much praise for an award-winning data map that visualizes the modern day effects of redlining — a practice that dates back to the 1930s, and involves racial and socioeconomic discrimination in certain neighborhoods through the systematic denial of services or refusal to grant loans and insurance.

This map, dubbed Redlining Louisville: The History of Race, Class and Real Estate, takes historic data about redlining found in the national archives in Washington, D.C., in 2013, and combines it with a timeline of historic events, data about current poverty levels, neighborhood boundaries and racial demographic info. With a host of tools including buttons and sliders, users can clearly see the correlation between the deliberate injustices of the past and the plight of struggling neighborhoods today.

Jeana Dunlap, Louisville’s director of redevelopment strategies, said the value of this map is wide-reaching, and that it serves to foster awareness and spur discussion of many civic challenges, including digital equity, poverty, and access to basic needs such as full-service grocery stores and health-care services.

For Louisville CIO Grace Simrall, the map is proving an asset in the city’s ongoing work to improve digital equity. City officials have also looked at the map as lens through which to examine digital inclusion, the effort to provide all residents with equal access to technology, as well as the related skills to benefit.

The dialog around digital inclusion has begun to ramp up across the country, with many cities participating this year in the first official National Digital Inclusion Week. Louisville is one of 15 cities currently identified by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance as a trailblazer in this area, and Simrall said the correlation between redlining and neighborhoods with the greatest need for digital equity is so apparent. This correlation, she said, will help drive future efforts and serve as a useful piece of discussions with private companies about why it is important to make deliberate efforts in West Louisville.

“If you read these original documents, it was not just about socio-economic needs,” Simrall said. “There were vibrant, financially healthy neighborhoods, but they were African American. It is absolutely racist at its core. I’m proud to work in a government where we fully acknowledge this, that it was institutional racism and that the only way we can really move forward is to talk explicitly about it, and talk about racial equity in all forms.”

With the map's February launch, Louisville hosted a series of community events to discuss the findings. Dunlap pointed to these events as key to fostering discourse that is invaluable as Louisville works on revitalizing all neighborhoods within the city. Such work is often done in a vacuum, with civil servants sitting at desks and writing planning policies that alter real lives in places they have little to no first-hand experience. This visualization of redlining, as well as the subsequent community events, is an effort to bridge gaps between policymakers, communities and their mutual understandings of historical struggles that continue to persist to this day.

“I didn’t want government to, again, sort of re-create history by sitting in a vacuum and trying to prescribe policy for people without truly understanding the experiences that real people were going through today,” Dunlap said. “A lot of people have asked, ‘Why are you digging up the past? Are we trying to place blame? Why is this a productive exercise?’ Well, the idea is to explain the history and get the stories of people today.”

While baby boomers may remember some of what went on, millennials and Gen-Xers did not see redlining at work, and Dunlap said as such, they are more likely to “have no concept of what life was like in terms of racial dynamics back then.”

The map was born out of a partnership between Louisville’s government and Joshua Poe, an urban planner who now works as project manager for YouthBuild Louisville. Poe finished collecting data for the map in 2014, when Esri’s story map format was rising in popularity, and Dunlap and the city collaborated with Poe to fund his efforts.

At a recent conference hosted by Esri, Dunlap discussed the map and said interest in the project from other cities is high. Other than that, she expects this effort to foster transparency about Louisville’s history to continue expanding, with dozens of smaller projects feeding into the larger goal of civic revitalization for the entire city.

“Redlining is still a present issue,” she said. “It’s just evolved past mortgage lending. Home insurance is an issue, car insurance is an issue, access to food and health care in neighborhoods is an issue.”

Zack Quaintance Staff Writer

Zack Quaintance is a staff writer for Government Technology. Prior to that, he spent five years working in daily newspapers, and another five years working in the tech sector. He lives in Northern California.