Racialized space has been used to explain the emergence of environmental racism and injustice. Central to this hypothesis is the history of uneven development in cities, coupled with persistent racial residential segregation. Beginning in the late 1930s, the federal Home Owners Loan Corporation (HOLC) surveyed over 200 midsized American cities to create comprehensive records of mortgage risk, commonly referred to as redlining maps. Many scholars acknowledge their significance in shaping early home and urban development policy. However, there has been relatively little work done using these maps, primarily because of their limited access. This article presents a methodology for an efficient digitization of redlining maps and provides an overview of variables within the HOLC risk map survey, called Security Area Descriptions. Work is based on a pilot study of seven central New York cities: Binghamton, Albany, Rochester, Syracuse, Elmira, Rome, and Buffalo. Key steps include the overlay and georeferencing of high-resolution copies of the original HOLC maps by using contemporary street maps, and the construction of a comprehensive database by using information derived from the Security Area Descriptions. Here we present this methodology and our initial findings in the relationship between race, socioeconomic status, and marginalized space. This research contributes to the literature on historical geography and urban development.
Environmental Practice 13:325–339 (2011)