Racism & Redlining

“Doing nothing about the segregation that occurred after the Great Migration cost ALL of us dearly.”

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Chicago's Grid Map

As early as 1830, city planners attempted to reconcile the natural landscape of Chicago with an easily understood system of streets and blocks. In 1909, the Chicago City Council implemented the grid plan. City planners took nearly 80 years to transform an initial 19th century survey of the city into the grid that exists today. The center of the grid is the intersection of State and Madison Streets in the Loop, and streets that traverse the city are labeled North, South, East, and West depending on their relation to this intersection. Address numbers increase based upon their distance away from the center. Houses and buildings were renumbered according to the new system, and although Chicagoans initially had difficulty adjusting to this shift at the turn of the century, the grid was practical enough to last up to the present day.

Chicago's Segregation

Chicago is one of the most segregated cities in the United States. This is a direct result of racist policies that have transpired over the course of more than a century. After large numbers African American migrated into Chicago starting in 1916, the Chicago Real Estate Board instituted racially-restrictive policies that prevented blacks from purchasing, leasing and occupying housing beyond a set of small boundaries on the South Side of the city. When black residents eventually moved into largely white neighborhoods, real estate agents encouraged white homeowners to sell their homes and move to the suburbs, convincing them their home values would soon drop. Housing segregation has declined gradually in the Chicago area in the past ten years. Nonetheless, people of color still do not have great mobility within the city. Historically, Chicago residents have held preconceived notions of different neighborhoods in the city, based on lines drawn in the past. With growth has come new types of opportunities and problems while long-standing issues remain unresolved. As the city pushes forward into the new eras, the responsibility to change is on us all.


The practice of redlining has its roots in the 1930s housing market. Major cities across the United States were undergoing significant demographic changes with influxes of African Americans as well as immigrants, especially Jews. The Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) was created to refinance home mortgages and minimize foreclosures. However, rather than determining who was a risk for investment based on finances, the HOLC explicitly denied loans on a basis of race. Neighborhoods populated by minorities were color-coded red and given the lowest possible grade of “D”. Aside from making homeownership difficult, the practice of redlining discouraged investment in resources such as schools, shops, banks, and community spaces. While certain neighborhoods dealt with a steady decline in investment and services, newer, mostly white, suburban communities enjoyed an increase in investment. The practice of denying loans based on race is illegal today, but the effects of redlining are still seen in the segregated neighborhoods of Chicago and other major cities. To this day, banks deny minorities mortgage loans more often than white loan-seekers. This process contributes to the fact that there is a greater disparity in homeownership between whites and African Americans today than there was during the Jim Crow era.