Silicon Valley Is Bringing Back Racist Redlining
Autonomous vehicles could turn neighborhoods into no-go zones
In the 1930s, the federal government surveyed 239 cities across the United States to create mortgage-lending risk maps, dividing the cities into four categories: green for the best areas, blue for areas that were “still desirable,” yellow for “declining” neighborhoods, and red to signify those that were most risky, which meant getting a mortgage was near impossible.
The racism of the time was built into these rankings, as neighborhoods condemned by their red designation “were predominantly made up of African Americans, as well as Catholics, Jews, and immigrants from Asia and southern Europe” — almost any groups that were not whites originating from northern Europe.
The practices behind redlining were outlawed decades ago, but the problems it created are still with us. Two-thirds of neighborhoods redlined in the 1930s continue to be inhabited primarily by minorities, while 91% of those living in green areas remain middle- or upper-income and 85% of their residents are white. Gentrification is also fueled by the legacy of “redlining” since many people in areas once deemed undesirable struggle to access credit, while wealthier people moving into those neighborhoods are given loans to buy and renovate properties.
As cities cement their place at the center of global economic activity and financial power, tech companies have become even more interested in embedding themselves in urban infrastructure through smart-city initiatives, new transport “solutions,” and new tools to target residents. But many of these technologies are not fully thought through, and could allow a new form of redlining to emerge unless regulators are proactive.
New tools for discrimination
Tech redlining is not just a theoretical conversation. Google has been heavily criticized by communities across the United States for renaming their neighborhoods on Google Maps without their knowledge or consent. Not only does this take power away from residents, but changing the name of a place can disconnect it from its past, and is often an important step in rebranding it for a gentrified future where original residents will eventually be…