Map Monday: Twin Cities Redlining (HOLC) Map, 1934

In 1934, the Federal Housing Administration devised a classification scheme for urban residential properties as part of the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation, a New Deal program intended to refinance existing home mortgages and to make the process more accessible for new homebuyers. The HOLC system classified homes and neighborhoods into four tiers, ranging from the most desirable and likely to retain their value (shown in green) to those whose values were expected to or were already in decline (red).

Although well-intentioned, the classification system had vast unforeseen consequences for the physical and demographic makeup of cities across the country. Although the system was theoretically determined by age and housing characteristics, the system was essentially a cipher for race; minimal integration between white and black residents was enough to demote areas in the hierarchy, and areas predominantly inhabited by people of color were usually labelled “Hazardous” (red). The government refused to underwrite loans to these areas (and banks worked with them), creating neighborhoods of homes that were difficult or impossible to sell, regardless of the condition of the property. This effect, known as “redlining,” was a key factor in exacerbating residential segregation and neighborhood decline, and the Twin Cities were no exception.

The HOLC map for Minneapolis has been featured here previously, but the map for Saint Paul is only accessible (AFAIK) in low-quality photographs. Thankfully, the Metropolitan Council recently uploaded digitized redlining maps for both Saint Paul and Minneapolis, making the raw data freely available here. Using that data, I recreated a version of the map below, with the various zones laid out on the Twin Cities’ modern street grid to emphasize the effects of freeways and urban renewal.

Minneapolis-Saint Paul redlining map

Type A: Best (Green) – newer or areas stil in demand
Type B: Still Desirable (Blue) – areas expected to remain stable for many years
Type C: Definitely Declining (Yellow) – areas in transition
Type D: Hazardous (Red) – older areas considered risky
(Grey = business/industrial areas; white = not developed by 1934)

Although the zones shown here had changed by the time active urban redevelopment was attempted in the 1950s and 60s, use of the modern street grid makes obvious several features that are not apparent in the historical maps. It makes clear, for example, that the freeway interchange which pins downtown Saint Paul to the river was targeted fairly precisely to demolish the southern edge of the redlined zone, at the same time as much of its surroundings to the north were bulldozed for other purposes.

What do you see in this map? Let us know in the comments below.

Ethan Osten

About Ethan Osten

Ethan Osten is a writer, a co-chair of the Saint Paul Bicycle Coalition, an avid cyclist and bus rider, and generally a pretty boring guy. He lives in Saint Paul's North End.

11 thoughts on “Map Monday: Twin Cities Redlining (HOLC) Map, 1934

  1. Joe

    Interesting. My house was in the hazardous (red) area. I knew it was near our neighborhood, but I didn’t know my actual house was. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Stuart

      Oddly, 35W only followed it on the northern stretch, but then moved over two blocks. I’ve always wondered what the reason was, and now I’m just more confused.

      1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

        I always assumed that it jogs to the west (going south) to avoid the original Honeywell campus. But as Ethan mentioned, you could also describe it as jogging to the east (going north) to avoid MIA. Probably both, huh?

    2. Ethan OstenEthan Osten Post author

      The freeway routes were only partially determined by these maps. 35W was originally intended to go straight north from Lake, taking out the MIA and Stevens Square Park. Keep in mind too that this is the map for 1934, not the late 50s-early 60s when the freeways were planned, so the red/yellow areas were probably bigger.

      My understanding is that 4th Ave S (esp. around 38th St) was the nucleus of south Minneapolis’s African-American community. It’s not a coincidence that the Arthur Lee riot happened at 46th and Columbus, in an area that’s blue on this map (and next to green!). In fact, in the mid-50s, when the Tilsenbilt Homes were constructed (one of? the first federally-funded housing program open to all races): “Archie Givens assembled 63 lots bounded by East 39th Street, East 47th Street, 5th Avenue South, and 3rd Avenue South. Although these lots were located just south of the large African American community in the 4th Avenue corridor, only two black families were living south of 42nd Street at the time.”

      1. Joe

        But on the map above, the red area extends all the way down to 46th St. Do you know why that would be if no black families lived there?

        Or were some of these lines not strictly race-based?

        1. Peter

          Considering that greater than 98% of MPLS’s population even up until 1950 was white, and that “red” and “yellow” areas comprise such a large proportion of developed land, it would follow that the majority of these lines were designated due to the quality of the housing stock and race could not be a significant factor, much less the basis.

          Or if prejudice was involved, prejudice based upon ethnicities within the white community is much more plausible as that was definitely a thing at that time.

  2. Peter

    Its wild that south of Montreal in St Paul was undeveloped. The Ford plant was on the outskirts of town, truly.

  3. Eric SaathoffEric Saathoff

    As a “color-blind” person I only see four colors. Yellow and green are indistinguishable here.

Comments are closed.