It was a mix of personal and professional experiences that brought together three passionate artists to create the Undesign the Redline exhibit. Designed to address the transformation of place, race, and class, this exhibit curates a past-to-present journey, grounding discussions about race, wealth, opportunity and power. Design practitioners, April De Simone, Sabrina Dorsainvil, and Branden Crooks wanted to provoke thought, questions, and dialogue around the policies, practices, and investments shaping the socio-spatial landscape of America. In commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the passing of the 1968 Fair Housing Act, HUD will host this interactive exhibit at its Headquarters building throughout the month of May.
What’s brilliant about this exhibit is its dual purpose. First, it seeks to educate the public on how our segregated metropolitan areas came about. The exhibit name itself offers the answer: through redlining. But ‘redlining’ here is shorthand for a host of practices, to include racially-restrictive covenants for entire subdivisions, private racial steering, government-supported redlining, and a host of other practices.
Second, the exhibit calls on us to “undesign” this legacy. To condemn these past practices and promise not to repeat them is not enough. The exhibit says we created a segregated society; now we must take active steps to undo it. This mirrors the mandate of the 1968 Federal Fair Housing Act for HUD and other federal agencies to “affirmatively further” the purposes of the Fair Housing Act. The exhibit helps fill in the gaps in the public’s understanding of why we must take active steps to reverse the harm.
When President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Fair Housing Act on April 11, 1968, he said he was signing into law “the promises of a century.” This measure was necessary because we had not yet fully guaranteed for all Americans, equal protection under the law. President Johnson said, “We’ve come some of the way but not near all of it.”
Now, 50 years later, we still have a long course to run. We have achieved much in the way of the enforcement of the Act on behalf of individual families who have experienced discrimination. We have helped obtain meaningful relief for them. Yet, that has not resulted in a major transformation of our neighborhoods. To do that, we must engage in more active work, at the Federal, state, and local level.
“Undesign the Redline” reminds us, going forward, we must live up to the Fair Housing Act’s central purpose—not just to root out discrimination, but, as the Act’s co-sponsor Senator Walter Mondale said, to promote “truly integrated and balanced living patterns.”
Krista Mills is the Deputy Assistant Secretary, Office of Policy, Legislative Initiatives and Outreach, Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity.