Feature Article

No More Red Lines: Undoing Our Legacy of Urban Segregation

A history of unfair real estate practices in the U.S. has left us with unsustainable, under-resourced neighborhoods. Inclusive green design can help them heal.

 people enjoying a daylit cafeteria space at Lake Highlands High School

The HKS-designed Lake Highlands High School renovation included a quiet, daylit cafeteria that brings students of all backgrounds together.

Photo: Roy Aguilar
Baton Rouge is breaking. Since 2003, four different districts of this city in Louisiana have seceded in order to create their own school systems. The latest, St. George, is in transition and simultaneously facing a legal battle challenging the election results that led to its secession. The proposed new city, whose citizens argue that the Baton Rouge public schools are not meeting their students’ needs, recently had to hold a golf tournament to fundraise to pay its legal fees.

Although the motives of St. George citizens are understandable—they want better schools for their kids, something all parents can relate to—the process has been charged with racial conflict. That’s because the proposed city (and its schools) will be 70% white, while the remaining district will be 89% people of color. To those left behind, this feels a lot like Jim Crow-era school segregation.

And just like during that time, separate is not equal. The remaining area of Baton Rouge will be poorer, meaning that schools and other institutions will be under-resourced and that access to opportunities will be limited.

Baton Rouge is not an anomaly. According to the nonprofit EdBuild, “128 communities have tried to break away from their school districts” since the turn of the millennium. The organization also claims that predominantly non-white school districts get $23 billion less per year—about $2,200 per student—than predominantly white ones: “Even after accounting for wealth disparities, the United States invests significantly more money to educate children in white communities.” These same neighborhoods are under-resourced in other ways; they are regions where heat islands regularly bake residents, flooding is commonplace, and public transit is lackluster.

This reality does not reflect the sustainable neighborhoods the green building community envisions for all people.

How did we get here? And what can we do to fix it? This report digs into the history of redlining and other unfair real estate practices, considers the effects these practices have had on communities, and offers some steps that building professionals can take to start to correct lingering injustices.

Published December 6, 2021

Melton, P. (2021, November 18). No More Red Lines: Undoing Our Legacy of Urban Segregation. Retrieved from https://www.buildinggreen.com/feature/no-more-red-lines-undoing-our-legacy-urban-segregation