Health Department’s Bronx Neighborhood Health Action Center Hosts “Undesign the Redline” Exhibit

The interactive exhibit explores the practice of discrimination based on neighborhood racial composition in New York City and its lasting impact on health

January 30, 2018 –The Health Department's Center for Health Equity, in partnership with social impact studio Designing the WE, today opened Undesign the Redline, an interactive exhibit about redlining in New York City. Redlining began in the 1930s, when the U.S. government drew maps to decide which neighborhoods in cities across the country were too risky for mortgage loans; areas made up of primarily people of color and recent immigrants were outlined in red. The housing policy laid the foundation for residential segregation and disinvestment in Black families and communities of color. Undesign the Redline explores the history of redlining in New York City through interactive maps, timelines and personal stories. It also highlights current social movements and community organizations working to “undesign” the racist legacy and invites the public to share ideas. The exhibit is open to the public, free of charge, at the Bronx Neighborhood Health Action Center through Friday, March 30. Guided tours will be available during visiting hours Tuesdays through Saturdays, in English and Spanish. More information is available on nyc.gov/health.

“The legacy of redlining persists in neighborhoods across New York City, defining part of the lasting effects of the Jim Crow era of the early 1900s,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett. “Redlining is directly connected to the ongoing health inequities that affect communities of color today. If we look today at the neighborhoods redlined as part of racist practices in the1930s, we see a pattern of poor health outcomes clustered in the very neighborhoods that were systematically deemed ‘risky’ by creditors, which led to their disinvestment.”

High-poverty neighborhoods have a long history of disinvestment resulting in fewer resources to support good health such as access to healthy foods, safe parks and clean streets. As shown in the Health Department’s Community Health Profiles, rates of chronic diseases like diabetes, obesity and asthma are higher in the Bronx compared to the citywide average.

The Health Department’s Center for Health Equity launched Neighborhood Health Action Centers in Tremont, East Harlem and Brownsville last year to bring much-needed resources to neighborhoods that have been systematically deprived of resources because of practices like redlining. The Bronx Neighborhood Health Action Center is located in Tremont, an area that was redlined when the maps were drawn decades ago. The Action Centers use a holistic approach to primary care; provide spaces for community organizing, planning and learning; and connect residents to neighborhood-based social services – all under one roof.

Redlining was created by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) in 1934 to make home ownership accessible by guaranteeing loans to millions of white families, while refusing to back loans for people of color. In an attempt to protect banks from housing foreclosures, the Home Owner’s Loan Corporation (HOLC) took maps of various cities throughout the United States and divided them by neighborhoods – marking the “safest” or “best” neighborhoods for banks to lend in green, versus the more “hazardous” or “risky” neighborhoods in red. The areas outlined in red were predominantly places where people of color and or recent immigrants resided. This practice demonstrates the structural nature of redlining as a discriminatory policy of devaluing neighborhoods based on the race and ethnicity of their residents.

 “As we activate these spaces, it is critical to use artful and interactive ways to communicate what really creates health in our neighborhoods. The Bronx Neighborhood Health Action Center is a key place for people of all ages to learn about the history, policy, and the effects of structural racism on health,” said Dr. Aletha Maybank, Deputy Commissioner and Director of the Center for Health Equity.

“Undesign the Redline is a traveling exhibit that features an in-depth history, explanation of the effects, and a discussion of what is possible in terms of how to ‘un-do’ or ‘un-design’ the lasting effects of redlining in the Bronx and beyond,” said Greg Jost, Bronx Collaborator of designing the WE. “We are excited to partner with the Bronx Neighborhood Health Action Center so visitors looking for health services can also learn how health is structural and not just individual.”

“Redlining policies unfairly barred communities here and across the country from investments for generations, and their influence is still written on today’s landscape,” said Cultural Affairs Commissioner Tom Finkelpearl. “We applaud Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett and Designing the WE for this effort to explore this legacy of historical injustice, and we encourage all New Yorkers to visit the exhibition to find out more.”

“Redlining is a discriminatory practice that must remain in the past, but it is important for New York City residents to learn and understand the history and effects these policies have had in neighborhoods like the Bronx. Redlining not only limited individuals’ access to capital, it also prevented the flow of resources into neighborhoods that are necessary to promote the health and well-being of its residents. These policies have effects that we feel to this day in the Bronx. With rumors that President Trump may undo protections to prevent this awful practice, this exhibit is more important than ever. I hope every Bronxite has the opportunity to see it and learn an important aspect of our City’s history,” said Congressman Serrano.

"In order for The Bronx to continue moving forward in a positive direction, it is critical to shed light on the continuing effects that institutional racism and redlining has on public health to ensure fairer and more just housing and health policies,” said Assembly Member Michael Blake. “The great people of the 79th Assembly district are some of those who continue to be most affected today of discriminatory policies of years past. Undesign the Redline does this important work of educating us on history to set a new vision for the future, in a way that is interactive and accessible.  I commend Commissioner Bassett for yet again addressing health inequity through a new lens, so that we as a people understand how our environment impacts our health.  In helping to empower people through knowledge of the past and of the present, this exhibit gives me hope that we will truly be able to redesign our way out of the destructive redlining legacy so that we continue #BuildingABetterBronx."

"Exhibits like these are important to allow us to not only understand the mistakes of our past, but to provide context on how to create better communities for tomorrow,” said Council Member Rafael Salamanca Jr.  “I hope that all of those who visit the Bronx Neighborhood Health Action Center will leave not only with a better understanding of redlining, but inspiration and motivation to be catalysts for change." 

About designing the WE

Designing the WE is a for-benefit design studio positioned within the fields of social innovation and community-driven social, cultural and economic development. Designing the WE facilitates collaborative processes to redefine how big picture systemic challenges are approached, identify opportunities for action, and co-design more holistic and resilient strategies centered on positive transformation.

About the Health Department’s Center for Health Equity

Founded in 2014, the Health Department’s Center for Health Equity amplifies the agency’s work to eliminate health disparities and improve health outcomes in neighborhoods with disproportionately high rates of chronic disease and premature death. The division takes a number of approaches to invest in key neighborhoods, eliminate the social barriers to good health and advance health equity throughout New York City. For more information on the Center for Health Equity, visit www.nyc.gov/health/CHE

Follow the Center for Health Equity on social media using #NYCHealthEquity.

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