Interpretive mapmaking in the United States has a spotty history. The low point, urban planners agree, came in the 1930s, when bureaucrats at the federal Home Owners’ Loan Corporation produced maps of some 240 US cities showing each neighborhood’s average residential income. The maps were intended to help government officials implement a mortgage-relief program for distressed borrowers, but they turned out to be an ideal tool for those who wished to discriminate. Over the next few decades, private banks used the maps to justify their refusing mortgages to blacks in the poorest areas, on the basis that residents of these neighborhoods could be considered “high-risk.” Redlining, as the practice came to be called, was common in many US cities until the 1970s, when it was finally outlawed.
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