19 Aug

Map of the Week: The Lines That Shape Our Cities

By: Kallie O’Donnell

The Lines That Shape Our Cities StoryMap (created in collaboration with the Digital Scholarship Lab at the University of Richmond, The Science Museum of Virginia, and Esri) connects present-day environmental inequalities to their 1930s policy roots. The story starts with a map where some areas of the unlabeled city are described with positive attributes such as “tree,” “green,” and “playground,” while other areas are labeled negatively with “dump,” “highway,” and “odor.” The author describes the lasting impacts these words have had on such areas and the communities who reside in them. 

Almost 100 years ago, federally supported city assessors rated neighborhoods in cities and created maps based on their assessments. These maps, known as redlining maps, were pertinent in shaping and segregating the American landscape. They remind us that borders and cartography are inherently political and there lies real power in who gets to decide a boundary. 

The StoryMap goes on to describe the impacts these maps have had on the world today, using both an environmental and social lens. Comparing maps from the 1930s to today, the author showcases how redlining maps have perpetuated environmental inequalities, including urban heat, tree coverage, impervious surfaces, urban renewal, and topography. 

Being able to understand where inequalities stem from could be a way to help ameliorate the problems. 

By the end of the StoryMap, an interactive component is provided for users who wish to add to the map how and where redlining has affected them. 

The interactive map is a great example of how spatial data can be used qualitatively. The American Geographical Society will be discussing redlining and more topics relating to geographic inequality at this year’s symposium, Geography 2050: Towards a More Equitable Future, from November 15 – 19, 2021. You can learn more about our open, virtual conference here: https://www.geography2050.org/.