Sunday, November 20, 2005

Redlining Returns to New Orleans??

The Dallas Morning News has an interesting article on the rebuilding of New Orleans. From the early days of settlement in the city, the Lower Ninth Ward was a cypress swamp that was subject to frequent flooding. Thus, its value as desirable real estate was minimal and it became the most affordable place for the city's historically marginalized populations. The levee projects of the past one hundred years kept it from total destruction--until Katrina.

Now, as New Orleans contemplates rebuilding a city that promises to be half its previous size in population, the question of which areas to concentrate rebuilding is a major issue. Apparently the old techniques of redlining are being considered. This technique has traditionally been used as a way to identify neighborhoods that do not have great potential for maintaining property values. If a neighborhood was redlined, people who wanted to purchase property in the area would have difficulty obtaining a mortgage. In the past, the racial makeup of neighborhoods was used as a prime indicator of maintenance of property values: more African Americans, less likelihood for maintenance of property values.

Of course, these determinations were based on racist assumptions that permeated the political culture of the United States until the emergence of the modern civil rights movement in the 1950s. It would be extremely problematic if these techniques were brought back to justify the lack of investment in a predominantly African American neighborhood following the worst natural disaster in the nation's history.