Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Noteworthy website: "Mapping Decline: St. Louis and the American City"

This is a fascinating web-based project, showcasing the decline of St. Louis in the twentieth century using interactive visuals and selected documents. The site combines interactive maps, primary source documents, and explanatory text that make this source a valuable graphical representation of racism at work in the United States.

The image above is a screenshot from Mapping Decline: St. Louis and the American City. This project accompanies Colin Gordon's book Mapping Decline: St. Louis and the Fate of the American City (PennPress, 2008) and presents an interactive series of four maps that help illustrate key themes of the book. The colored patches on the map above show where race-restrictive covenants, regulations, and real estate ratings of one kind or another existed during the first half of the twentieth century.

The screenshot doesn't show four tabs at the top of the map that allow the user to see St. Louis' decline in terms of white flight, race & property (the map above), municipal zoning, and urban renewal. Users can view change over time in each of these maps by clicking on a time scale at the bottom of the map; clicking through the time scale on the white flight map shows a particularly compelling representation of this phenomena.

There are also links to PDF copies of important contemporary documents, providing source material for the book and website. For example, here is an example of a restrictive real estate deed from March 1940.

The book Mapping Decline
    examines the causes and consequences of St. Louis's urban crisis. It traces the complicity of private real estate restrictions, local planning and zoning, and federal housing policies in the "white flight" of people and wealth from the central city. And it traces the inadequacy—and often sheer folly—of a generation of urban renewal, in which even programs and resources aimed at eradicating blight in the city ended up encouraging flight to the suburbs. The urban crisis, as this study of St. Louis makes clear, is not just a consequence of economic and demographic change; it is also the most profound political failure of our recent history.


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