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Mapping segregation’s impacts

A series of seven large maps set up on easels. They’re set up outside a large conference room with glass walls.
Screen capture
VPM News Focal Point
A series of maps which are part of the Living Apart: Geography of Segregation in the 21st Century, show the current impacts of a history of discriminatory housing policies.

An exhibit shows the impact of redlining through a series of maps. The maps show how the discriminatory housing practice has impacts on other factors like wealth and health. 


JOHN FINN (ASSOC. PROF. OF GEOGRAPHY., CHRISTOPHER NEWPORT UNIV.): This map isn't about whether it's 19% or 21% here. The map is about, it's different here to here. I am a self-professed map nerd. I love working with maps. I love looking at maps. I love seeing data visualized in map form, and increasingly in the last couple of years, I've really enjoyed making maps and thinking about how maps can help us to show the public different kinds of social and environmental phenomena.

So, the exhibit is called "Living Apart Geography of Segregation in the 21st Century," and it really seeks to answer three basic questions. Where did the patterns of residential racial segregation in the U.S. originate? Where did it come from? What were the processes, the historical, the social, the political processes that led American cities to become so incredibly racially segregated in the 20th century, and then looking into the 21st century, why have those patterns been so durable and what have the effects been in the present day? We created these 12 different maps. All 12 maps show exactly the same amount of the city, and they all show the redlined neighborhoods on top, and then they show 12 different sets of data. And if I've heard one common theme from people who have seen these maps and who have engaged with these maps is that whether you're looking at racial segregation or at poverty or at pavement, or of the lack of tree canopy or urban heat or asthma or life expectancy, it's the same geographical pattern over and over and over. Basically all these maps, they show 12 different sets of data, but it's always the same pattern.

JOHN FINN TO GROUP: In my work, my footwork focuses in the Hampton Roads region, north of Virginia Beach, Hampton, Newport News, where I live.

I was invited to come here to the collegiate school in Richmond to do what we're calling a pop-up exhibition where I brought a paired down set of the artifacts from the full gallery exhibition. We set them up on easels. We've invited students and classes to come through. I've had the privilege of talking to four or five different classes about this work through out the day today.

JOHN FINN TO GROUP: It's basically all the same map, right?

The exhibit begins by getting a little bit into the history of housing segregation in the US and housing discrimination in the US, looking at redlining, looking at public housing policy in the 1940s and 1950s, looking at other housing policies surrounding the suburbanization especially of the American white population, the white middle class suburbanization in the 1950s and the 1960s, all the way through these kind of discrimination and mortgage lending, discrimination and home appraisals, all these different historical processes, both public policy, but also the discriminatory actions of individuals and of companies that created the landscapes of inequality that we inhabit today.

New 2022 data shows that median white wealth in the U.S., the middle family, the middle white family in terms of total net worth, has almost $300,000 of wealth. The median Black family has less than $50,000 of wealth. And so it's a gap of about 85%. That 85% gap in wealth between the median white family and the median Black family is I think the single data point that captures the long term and cumulative impact of housing discrimination across the last 100 years. We closed the exhibit with two parallel ideas of what are cities and municipalities and states around the country doing now to try to redress some of this harm, and what can we as individuals do in order to help improve the situation.

NOTE: Virginia Humanities provided research support for this story. Professor Finn worked as the section editor for an Encyclopedia Virginia history series on urban renewal in Virginia.


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