Polk County Housing Trust Fund Sheds Light on Redlining in Des Moines

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DES MOINES, Iowa — Undesign the Redline is an interactive exhibit connecting the history of housing discrimination and segregation to the political and social issues of today. This exhibit is run by Polk County Housing Trust Fund and social impact firm, Designing The We. They’ve spent months researching redlining, particularly in Des Moines, to hopefully educate central Iowans.

Coined by sociologist and community activist John Mcknight, redlining refers to the practice of denying loans and services to an area based on its racial and ethnic composition. This leads to home inequity, poor education systems, and food insecurities in underserved communities nationwide than can still be seen to this day.

“What redlining really did was take implicit racism and put it in black and white, and make it policy and make it systemic racism that has a legacy that follows us today,” Polk County Housing Trust Fund Communications Director, Lauren Johnson, said.

Des Moines is no exception. There are communities here that still suffer from urban renewal projects that spun out from redlining. In fact one case that the exhibit explores is Center Street.

“So this was a street that was just filled and booming with black-owned businesses and beautiful homes in Des Moines,” Johnson said. “That was the street that is now really a parking lot for the hospitals over off the interstate because all those families were displaced with that construction.”

Sarah Trone Garriott, a patron of the exhibit, says she’s leaving with a better understanding of Des Moines neighborhoods.

“I think that this exhibit really helps you understand why our city is like it is,” Garriott said. “It didn’t happen by accident, there were actual federal, local and state policies that really shifted wealth from one population to another, that disadvantage certain members of our community.”

Johnson says Polk County Housing Trust Fund knew this was a tough topic to tackle but the positive response from visitors has made the months of research worth it.

“Often they tell their friends and bring more people in. So, to me that says that this is an important conversation that we’re starting here in Des Moines and folks want more,” Johnson said.

Though the Undesign the Redline exhibit is usually only open on certain days with certain hours, it will be open for the whole day on January 20th to celebrate Martin Luther King Day.

To schedule a tour, visit www.undesigndsm.com or call the Polk County Housing Trust Fund at 515-282-3233.

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