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  • Renewing Inequality and Mapping Inequality
  • Jason A. Heppler (bio)
Digital Scholarship Lab, Renewing Inequality: Family Displacements through Urban Renewal and Mapping Inequality: Redlining in New Deal America, American Panorama, ed. Robert K. Nelson and Edward L. Ayers, University of Richmond, 2016-18. (accessed 01 2018).

Two decades of historical scholarship have deftly examined the racial underpinnings of urban history, exploring how residential segregation was constructed around federal policies and funding purported to support cities. But two digital projects, Mapping Inequality and Renewing Inequality, add another important and stunning way to understand these policies: through their visualization in time and place. Together they provide an excellent overview of urban federal policies and their impact on American families between 1930 and 1970. While the histories of these policies are well covered among urban historians, the two projects helpfully combine a broad overview of these policies and their implementation's effect and provide an ease of moving among scales that allow researchers, students, and teachers to fully engage with the historical argument and material.

The two projects are part of the broader initiative American Panorama, a digital atlas of American history emerging out of the partnership of the University of Richmond's Digital Scholarship Lab and San Francisco's Stamen Design. American Panorama is edited by the historians Robert Nelson and Edward Ayers, and funded through the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the University of Richmond. These two projects are the most ambitious among the seven that American Panorama has created.

Mapping Inequality seeks to examine how the Home Owners Loan Corporation (HOLC) underwrote residential segregation through its urban development programs. The project offers several ways to explore wealth disparity in New Deal America, from the 150 redlining maps to curated and digitized "area descriptions" to visualizing how inequality was placed. [End Page 721]

Users coming to Mapping Inequality for the first time are presented with a list of states and their respective cities positioned along the right side of the screen, with a nation-wide map of all HOLC cities taking up the remaining two-thirds of the screen. The list of cities helpfully provides a horizontal bar chart of HOLC's neighborhood ratings (A through D) to visualize the number of neighborhood grades per city. Selecting any one of these cities, either from the list or on the map, zooms the reader to the city-level. Here users can compare 1930 and 1940 Census figures in cases where those data are available (total population, foreign-born white, native-born white, African American, and Asian American). Zooming to a particular city overlays a high-resolution, georectified HOLC map on top of a present-day basemap. Clickable polygons are drawn on top of the neighborhood areas, allowing readers to interact with a particular neighborhood and read the area descriptions—the primary source neighborhood reports created by the HOLC surveyors.

The project also dispels the concentric-circle pattern of urban development first posited by the sociologist Ernest W. Burgess in 1925 by visualizing the distribution of HOLC ratings. Replicating the concentric circles as an interactive visualization, users can mouse over each concentric "section" to see the HOLC grading breakdown; hovering over a grade highlights the corresponding neighborhood areas on the map. The concentric circle visualization, then, doubles as a donut chart to illustrate the grade breakdown of cities as it radiates out from the urban core. The point is not to reify the ideas of Burgess but to illustrate, concretely, that his theory does not hold up to reality.

Renewing Inequality picks up where Mapping Inequality leaves off by exploring the urban renewal policies of the post–World War II era. The project explores how funding provided by the federal government to raze "blighted" urban areas displaced families from their homes, often disproportionately affecting families of color. Like Mapping Inequality, Renewing Inequality provides several avenues for exploring the historical processes at work: by indicating, through circle diameter, the number of families displaced (shaded in color depending on whether the majority are families of color or white families); providing project boundaries and type, poverty and racial data, and the number of families displaced by year; and offering specifics about project type...


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pp. 721-725
Launched on MUSE
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