Seed Grant Award: Undesign the Redline @ Barnard

Mary Rocco, Urban Studies, Barnard College


Undesign the Redline @ Barnard is an interactive exhibition that combines history, art, and storytelling with community outreach and collaboration, in order to reckon with systemic racism through an exploration of the legacy of redlining in Barnard and Columbia’s neighborhood. Undesign the Redline will present the national and local history of redlining practices through a custom-designed exhibition made up of primary and secondary sources, student and community contributions, and multi-media narratives spanning the decades since the creation of redlined maps by the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) in 1938 through to the present. Working with a local New York-based social design studio Designing the WE, both internal and external stakeholders in Barnard’s upper Manhattan neighborhoods such as faculty, students, and unaffiliated community members co-created an exhibition that recounts the historical roots of redlining in Morningside Heights and Harlem as well as its contemporary legacies. 

Undesign the Redline provided a unique opportunity to examine how the “othering” of entire demographics manifests spatially in the development and evolution of neighborhoods and cities. The fundamental premise of redlining, that one group is more valuable and deserving of resources than another, did not begin with lines drawn on maps. It has deep roots in a slavery-based economy that stratified roles based on race. Redlining formalized this practice across the built environments in US cities. 

To undesign the redline is to challenge this systemic inequality through a transformational approach, starting with a fundamental shift in the way we think. Through Undesign the Redline, the extended Columbia community had the opportunity to engage critically with a form of structural racism that shapes the neighborhoods and cities where we live, work and play.

This project was funded through the Addressing Racism: A Call to Action for Higher Education initiative of the Office of the Vice Provost for Faculty Advancement.