Redlining Louisville map wins Harvard University honor

An interactive map that Louisville Forward introduced in February, examining the lasting impact of redlining, has been selected by Harvard University as its Map of the Month, the city announced Wednesday.

“Redlining Louisville: The History of Race, Class and Real Estate” is the first selection by the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government in its effort to recognize “best-in-class data visualizations created by all units of government as well as nonprofit organizations,” according to a press release.

The center introduced the Map of the Month contest in June and selected Louisville out of several dozen submissions, said Eric Bosco, who works on the Civic Analytics Network project team at the Ash Center and helps run the map of the month initiative. A selection committee scored and ranked the entries based on criteria such as the ability to make policy impact with a map, its public value and use as an education tool, he said.

In releasing the map in February, the city announced a yearlong series of public events to promote community dialogue on the issue of redlining. “So, when we saw that there were community meetings, that was very noteworthy,” Bosco said, adding that the outreach offered a direct line to bring data to life and make an impact in the community.

Stephen Goldsmith of Harvard Kennedy School, who directs the Data-Smart City Solutions project, ultimately picked Louisville as the winner, Bosco said. “We got quite a few really good ones, but Louisville’s redlining map really stuck out to us,” he said.

In an interview, Jeana Dunlap, director of Louisville Metro’s Office of Redevelopment Strategies, said, “Because Harvard is such a distinguished university, they have a worldwide brand, and being acknowledged by them lends credibility and validation not only to the mapping tool, but also to the subject matter, appreciating the intersection between technology and social policy.”

Louisville’s map was created by local urban planner Joshua Poe as part of an effort to draw attention to present-day redlining tactics as well as the negative effects of past redlining. Redlining, which dates back to 1933, is a form of discrimination in which lending agencies deny financial services to people living in certain neighborhoods or businesses charge higher rates for services.

Poe, who now works as project manager for YouthBuild Louisville, began looking into redlining in Louisville as an independent research project about five years ago, according to Bosco’s Data-Smart City Solutions article announcing the Map of the Month winner.

He reached out for assistance from local universities and community organizations. And he found a partner in Dunlap, who helped fund the project in her former role as director of vacant and public property administration, Bosco explained in the post.

“This is an important topic that has not been discussed openly very much in our community,” Dunlap told him. “It dates back 80 years and we’ve seen signs that there are some sorts of digital redlining tendencies, with access to broadband internet, the provision of health and medical services, and with grocery stores closing, the creation of food deserts with large portions of the community that don’t have access to basic grocery services.”

Poe said in the release that the interactive map “allowed us to go deeper and broader in explaining these connections, both historically and in present times.”

The Ash Center said it selected Redlining Louisville for its “outstanding use of data combined from multiple sources, including historical data, its creativity and effective communication to the public and the policy implications it is likely to have moving forward.”

As winners of the map contest, Louisville receives a certificate of achievement, and a Map of the Month seal for use on promotional materials. The Ash Center also will give additional recognition for the best map of the year.

Next week, Dunlap and Poe will be presenting the redlining map to the Esri User Conference in San Diego, a competitive and juried five-day conference with over 1,000 sessions and 16,000 participants.

Another round of community meetings is being scheduled for late summer/early fall, Dunlap said, and already the effort has its own hashtag, thanks to an engaged stakeholder: #erasethelines of redlining.