Redlining Omaha Blog Four: Reuter

Both maps this week are thematic, and essentially they both map similar things. However, the two maps differ in how discrete they are in displaying what they truly represent. While the modern census map (focusing on Omaha) clearly displays the location of different ethnicities within Omaha, the 1936 HOLC map does so in a more discrete manner. Without background knowledge that the HOLC’s grading policies “undervalued neighborhoods that were dense, mixed, or aging… and almost invariably rated black neighborhoods as fourth grade” (K. Jackson), it would be near impossible to determine the ethnic consistency of the various neighborhoods in the 1936 map. Once this information is revealed, though, it becomes obvious that both maps fundamentally show the spatial relation and location of different ethnicities in Omaha.
As a consequence of coding ethnic locations within other map elements, the HOLC map makes a very different argument from its 2010 census counterpart. While the census map is simply arguing that, in certain areas of Omaha, certain ethnics are more common, the HOLC map is doing something very different. Since it’s superficially displaying the loan appeal aspects of differing neighborhoods, based on a grading system that was racist and anti-communalist, it’s fundamentally arguing about the relative financial responsibility and safety of loans in the hands of different ethnic groups. Viewed from this perspective, it’s clear that, in staying consistent with the national HOLC trends of the era, areas that were deemed highly diverse or comprised mostly of minorities were graded as significantly less desirable, compared to white suburban areas (see image below of north Omaha). After reading Kenneth Jackson’s work though, these findings are not particularly surprising. However, something more interesting, and somewhat shocking, is revealed when looking at both maps simultaneously and identifying their relative similarities and differences. Upon doing this, it becomes evident, that over the past 80 years, the spatial relation between Omaha minority and majority populations has changed very little. Considering the HFA, which Jackson sees as the main agency behind racial segregation and red-lining, due to its “policy to favor homogenous subdivisions over industrial, ageing, or heterogeneous neighborhoods,” took action to address these discriminatory practices over 40 years ago, it’s amazing that little has changed with regard to ethnic segregation within Omaha. Whether this is a result of the lasting effects of the HFA’s actions, or is due to some other force is not clear. The longevity of this segregation, at least to me, suggests that the red-lining practices of HFA are either over-exaggerated, or perhaps actually supported somewhat by the authentic characteristics of these differing neighborhoods.

(South and North Omaha, which have been traditionally sites of minorities, clearly received lower grades (C’s and D’s) compared to their suburban, mostly Caucasian counterparts.)

(Note the obvious racial, minority based segregation still present in Omaha as of 2010, and how it mirrors the minority based suburb grades in the above map (green= African American, orange= Latino))

3 Replies to “Redlining Omaha Blog Four: Reuter”

  1. Interesting post. Perhaps the “authentic characteristics” you identify in these neighborhoods were actually self-fulfilling prophecies. Because neighborhoods were graded as hazardous, they became increasing hazardous as a result (less investment = less wealth = worse local schools = worse infrastructure = declining housing stock etc.) Or, perhaps there is a degree of overemphasis on redlining maps as a causal force – and if thats the case, what other factors may have contributed to the very obvious patterns of segregation? It’s certainly helpful to keep an open mind about causation moving forward with this project.

    1. The HOLC map comes courtesy of Dr. Palma Strand.

      Source: National Archives (College Park, MD) RG 195 – Records of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board
      Entry 39 – Records Relating to the City Survey File, 1935-40, Omaha NE
      Box 3

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