The Theory Behind the 1935 Saint Paul Slum Map

I’ve seen the amazing Minneapolis slum map a few times on the internet, including a nicely colored version with much more legible text. Anyway, from the Met Council’s compelling Choice, Place, and Opportunity report, detailing racial inequality in the Twin Cities, here’s the Saint Paul version of that map.

STP-1935-slum-map Source: Calvin F. Schmid, “Social Saga of Two Cities: An Ecological and Statistical Study of Social Trends in Minneapolis and Saint Paul,” (Minneapolis, MN: The Minneapolis Council of Social Agencies, Bureau of Social Research, 1937), p. 181.

saint paul slum map color

Updated full-color version (with Green Line) from cartographer Geoff Maas.


For some much-needed context, Twin Cities geographer Dave Lanegran’s book, Minnesota on the Map, outlines some of the thinking behind these maps:

The study … produced a massive compendium of statistics, graphs, and charts based on research funded by grants from the Federal Writers’ Projects.  The grants employed a large but unknown number of young social scientists to gather an analyze data on population trends, housing and “social and persona disorganization.”


Human ecologists [like the report’s author Cavlin F. Schmid] labeled these Twin Cities maps “Natural Areas” because they believed that there were natural laws governing societies comparable to the laws of nature. These laws worked outside human control and create natural areas of the city. The areas of greatest concern were slums, where people lived in degraded and dangerous conditions, and the social scientists mapped these areas block-by-block.

I wish I had a copy of this book! Believe it or not, early urban sociology (like the famous “Chicago school“) was pretty radical at the time, in that it actually tried to think about how urban race and class divisions worked, and to take seriously the connection between housing, urban neighborhoods, and poverty. But they made some troubling assumptions about the connection between environment and behavior, and. in some ways, some of these biases can live with us to this day.

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9 thoughts on “The Theory Behind the 1935 Saint Paul Slum Map

  1. Alex

    There is a copy at the Wilson library that circulates, if my 10-year-old memory is correct. A copy of Schmid’s book, I mean, although they probably have Minnesota on the Map, too.

  2. Kevin

    Very interesting. As a word nerd, I find it fascinating how generic pejorative terms for neighborhoods have stayed stable over the decades (i.e. “ghetto,” “slum”) and perhaps even grown more abundant (i.e. “the hood,” “the pjs,”). However, generic terms for the “rich part of town” seem to have slipped from common usage. The idea of the “gold coast” of St. Paul has fallen by the wayside. “Bad” neighborhoods tend to be tagged with common, anonymous terms, whereas “good” neighborhoods are largely individualized.

      1. Rosa

        It’s still pretty visible, though. Or the long term reputations of suburbs hold on even when the demographics have changed. People use suburb names instead of city neighborhood names. It took me a while after I moved here to get what people were saying when they said “Edina” or “Lake Minnetonka”, just like it took me a while to realize why people would tell you a city intersection (“I live at 29th & 39th”) without saying North or South. Because longtime residents assume you know what kind of people live where.

        1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

          I think that’s a thing, but there also aren’t a lot of numbered streets in north or northeast Minneapolis (i.e., there’s 29th Ave and Queen on the north side, but not 29th & 39th).

          In fact I think there’s only one quadrant of the city that has a 29th & 39th (two of them, actually!), for example.

          1. Joe

            The only numbered streets in North are 2,3,4,6 (with tiny bits of 5). The only numbered streets in Northeast are 2-7 (with 7th being very short).

            6th Ave and 7th Ave don’t exist in South, so the only intersections that you could get confused about between South and Northeast are 2nd and 19th (there’s tiny bits of 17th and 18th but not much) through 5th and 26th (plus 36th and 37th). That’s about 30 square blocks.

            The only confusion points between South and North are between 2nd and 19th and 4th and 36th (with 3rd not existing for large stretches). That is also under 30 blocks.

            SE signed streets only have overlap with downtown, except for 4th and 25th thru 4th and 30th.

            The only intersection in all four quadrants (aside from the downtown ones) is 4th and 18th. I think so anyway. And the one in North is weird as they don’t intersect but actually turn into on another while intersecting Lyn-Curve.

            This has nothing to do with anything, but I always thought it was interesting how little crossover there is. The only confusion is the rectangle between 22nd and 22nd and 46th and 46th. And that is (basically) the same neighborhoods.

  3. John Bailey

    Pardon the slight tangent, but it’s interesting to me that you refer to “Chicago school” as part of urban sociology in the 30’s. I always associate the term “Chicago school” with the economics department at the University of Chicago in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, which (generally) rejected Keynesian theory and promoted laissez faire economic policy.

    1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke Post author

      Sociologists were first. But yes, it’s interesting and it’s the same school. I wonder if you could make other connections somehow?

      Anyway, this terminology is what I was taught in urban geography 101.

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