When neighborhoods felt the sting of redlining

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Usually, someone goes to view an exhibition, but “Undesign the Redline,” at the Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library, is an exhibition you read.

Believe, me: I am not complaining.

On three walls, this interactive exhibition presents a sweeping view of how federal agencies and insurance underwriters began to promote segregation based on the condition of homes and the types of people who lived in them. The upshot is that because minority and poor residents could not get a mortgage or funding to buy a home, years later, the accumulated wealth embedded in a home couldn’t be passed on to children or grandchildren.

I read about this exhibition a couple of weeks ago in Denverite, by reporter Donna Bryson, and I thought this was particularly timely because of Denver’s population growth and the demographic shifts that are remaking the city.

The panels show a mix of national events, movements, and maps, with Denver-related information plugged in. There is, though, a 1930s map that illustrates what the red line meant in Denver: Insurers marked on maps of a city that the best neighborhoods were shaded green, blue a notch below, yellow a neighborhood in decline, and red was hazardous. A map that opens the exhibition is devoted to the Bronx, an introduction to what the country faced during the period before World War II.

The interactive element of “Undesign the Redline” asks viewers to pin tags on the panels to offer suggestions and comments; also, visitors can stick color-coded pins where they have owned a home or where they live now. I was pleased to see how many visitors had left a comment or picked up a pin.

Undoubtedly a lot of work went into this project, which was supported by Designing the WE, the Enterprise Community Partners, The Denver Foundation, and other entities that helped fund “Undesign the Redline.”

Still, because there is only so much room for information, I sensed that we were missing some things about Denver. I was pleased, though, that the largest time-line panel in the exhibition included a reference to the ground-breaking Mile High Housing Association, which was created in 1948 by a group of professors at the University of Denver (including noted architect Eugene Sternberg). The local information was contributed by area researchers, including those at the Denver Public Library’s Western History Collection.

For anyone who wants to learn more about redlining – nationwide and locally – “Undesign the Redline” is a good place to start, in terms of how a legacy of exclusion began, and its impact today.

“Undesign the Redline” will be on view until Dec. 15 at Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library, 2401 Welton Street. An “I Am Denver” storytelling lab is set for 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, Dec. 1, at Blair-Caldwell. RSVP at (720) 865-2052, or community@denverlibrary.org

The exhibition also will be on view from Dec. 18 through Jan. 2 at the Webb Municipal Office Building, 201 West Colfax Avenue; an opening is set from noon to 1 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 20, in the building’s atrium.

To learn more about this project and other activities:





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