Brooklyn’s 1938 “Redline” Map

During the middle of the 20th-century, America’s urban cores were being gutted through fiscal attrition: tax dollars were being sent, for the first time, out and away from cities to subsidize suburban expansion. At the same time, private financial institutions were pulling their funding away from urban home-buyers, business owners and those wishing to refinance for home maintenance and improvements. This practice of selective geographic financing was known as “redlining“, and it helped decimate specific neighborhoods via disinvestment and blight.

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A few months ago, I found one of the original redlining maps for Brooklyn, New York (UPDATE: For more than 250 digital maps, please refer to the UrbanOasis.org HOLC library, which have amazingly digitized records from the National Archives). While not explicitly a map with any “red lines” it clearly identified the “security” of lending to certain residential blocks (or entire neighborhoods). I went ahead and slightly updated the map to show existing Brooklyn Community Board boundaries, as well as the existing subway lines, to help and provide a better sense of context.

 

1938 Brooklyn Redline map

1938 Brooklyn Redline map. UrbanOasis.org via National Archives (NARA II RG 195 Entry 39 Folder “Brooklyn (Kings Co.)” Box 58). Edited by ASommer, PlaNYourCity.

 

 

You can see on the bottom left corner of the map the legend, where Green is “Grade A” financing, all the way to Red, which was “Grade D” financing. While this map does not specifically say “Do not finance these areas,” it clearly says certain areas are bad investments.

 

 

So, if you lived in Brooklyn during 1938, would you have been able to receive any financing for your home? Would you have been able to refinance for that new boiler, facade, or would you have been able to sell your house to a new buyer?