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North DSM News

Friday, April 3, 2020

Undesign the Redline teaches the community about the impact of discrimination


By Elle Johnson | Mar 6, 2020

Des Moines, Iowa | Wikimedia Commons/Ted Taber

Undesign the Redline, run by Polk County Housing Trust Fund, is an interactive exhibit designed to educate residents on discrimination and segregation and the connection they have to today's political and social issues. 

John Mcknight, sociologist and community activist, said redlining is denying services to people based on their race and ethnicity. Redlining can cause bad education systems, inequity in homes and unsecured food in underprivileged communities. 

“What redlining really did was take implicit racism and put it in black and white, and make it policy and make it systemic racism that has a legacy that follows us today,” Lauren Johnson, Polk County Housing Trust Fund Communications director, told

Des Moines, Iowa, has its share of redlining. Many communities are still affected from projects that were a result of redlining. Undesign the Redline has an exhibit on Center Street in Des Moines. 

“So this was a street that was just filled and booming with black-owned businesses and beautiful homes in Des Moines,” Johnson said. “That was the street that is now really a parking lot for the hospitals over off the interstate because all those families were displaced with that construction.”

Patron Sarah Garriott said the exhibit has helped her understand the neighborhoods in Des Moines better. 

“I think that this exhibit really helps you understand why our city is like it is,” Garriott said. “It didn't happen by accident, there were actual federal, local and state policies that really shifted wealth from one population to another, that disadvantage certain members of our community.”

Polk County Housing Trust Fund were aware this would be a difficult subject to turn into an exhibit, but those who visit it leave with positive responses, Johnson said. 

“Often they tell their friends and bring more people in. So, to me that says that this is an important conversation that we're starting here in Des Moines and folks want more,” Johnson said.

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