What Does It Take To Undo Historical Wrongs? Louisville Finds Out.

February 22, 2019 - (4 min read)

What began as a project by local urban planner and community organizer Joshua Poe quickly became a critical tool for understanding the interplay between the city’s history and its current outcomes.

An interactive storymap created by Poe demonstrated how redlining and other real estate policies impacted the ability of communities of color to access jobs and build wealth. The map layered federal redline maps with the current distribution of vacant properties, building permits, home ownership, poverty, and the city’s racial and class populations from 1937 to 2010. The overlay vividly illustrated how redlining determined which modern-day neighborhoods showed signs of investment—and which did not, drawing attention to the divisions between majority white communities and communities of color.

Some of these current disparate impacts include:

  • Denying access to mortgages and business loans independent of credit rating
  • Disparities in rates of home ownership and investment
  • Digital redlining, which is differential access to technological services like broadband
  • Reverse redlining, a practice in which banks and other mortgage lenders charge people of color higher interest rates than white people
  • Refusal to provide delivery services for goods to residences of color
  • Dropping property insurance policies for Black and immigrant residents

Since Poe’s storymap was such a powerful device, Louisville Metro Mayor Greg Fischer worked with city staff to share what the city learned from it. First, the city developed a yearlong community dialogue called “Redlining Louisville: The History of Race, Class, and Real Estate” in partnership with community organizations. The series of dialogues helped the city formulate recommendations for how to address the ongoing impacts of redlining on communities of color.

“There are still institutional barriers to people of color and that should be a concern for everybody in our country… And until we get into and understand more of history, injustice, grievances, and work through these issues, we’re not going to be as strong as a country,” said Mayor Fischer.

Second, in a series of podcasts, the Mayor created a space for the residents and organizations of Louisville to delve into the city’s fraught history with race as well as current issues like the future of controversial public art in the city.

Prior to the redlining series, Louisville Metro undertook several other efforts to both understand racial inequities and build a path towards racial healing.

In 2006, the Louisville Department of Public Health and Wellness began investigating the racial health disparities in Louisville. The department founded the first municipal Center for Health Equity (CHE) in the country to address the social and economic conditions that cause health inequities. Since then, CHE has worked with partners throughout Louisville to understand the systemic factors influencing health outcomes and to identify evidence-based practices to move communities forward in addressing racial disparities. Through regular dissemination of its Health Equity Report, CHE has played a pivotal role in helping the city better understand disparities.

This data led to the Healing Possible Quorum 100 (HPQ100) racial healing effort, supported through a five-year grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. In 2014, community members across sectors developed a series of recommendations to Louisville Metro to promote racial healing and address structural racism. These actionable recommendations led to:

  • Adoption of a racial impact assessment tool
  • Development of a public- private-nonprofit partnership to build community consensus and build the business case for equity, which would be staffed by a racial equity commission
  • Adoption of formal policies across institutions to demonstrate their commitment to embedding racial equity as a priority
  • Education, training and ongoing community dialogue to support implementation of the assessment tool

By documenting and sharing the strategies of each city, NLC hopes to create a platform that makes it easy for city leaders and staff to learn from each other and develop strong networks of communication. Compiled with the generous support of the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, this is an excerpt from the Louisville City Profile on Racial Equity. Download the full report here

About the Author: Aliza R. Wasserman is the senior associate with NLC’s Race, Equity, And Leadership (REAL) Initiative.