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Redline Maps & Voices of Tacoma

There is an important aspect of the story about Voices of Tacoma: A Gathering of Poets that hasn’t yet been widely discussed outside of in-person events and it needs to be shared more broadly.

This project is about expressing the spirit of Tacoma through poetry via an anthology, to be published in Autumn 2024. 

Though that sounds like an easy concept, it is not that simple. 

Let me explain.

Why a Map?

Overlay Maps of Tacoma (1).jpg

When I think about this project I envision a map, and everytime I try to articulate what this project is about I refer to this map in my head.  Yes – this project is about poetry but, more importantly, it is about connecting people through poetry. It is about giving people the opportunity to share what Tacoma means to them through their poems. It is about capturing the essence of Tacoma from the perspective of those who live, love, work, or just have passed through the City of Destiny.

 

This map in my head helps me think about each of the neighborhoods, streets, alleys, encampments, schools, retention facilities, railroad tracks, park benches, apartment buildings, houses, and the barren and overgrown places where the people of Tacoma live and work. 

 

This map enables me to think about how each person, in each of these places, gives their own meaning to our City.

 

Though the map in my head shows the detail of our present city, it is superimposed on an older map. This underlying map bleeds through and shows our City’s historical undercurrents. Just beneath the surface, under each of the modern neighborhoods, one can see the traces of the ripples and tears which ultimately shaped the landscape of the Tacoma we now know.

 

Something that informed this visualization, and changed my understanding of the very ground we stand on, was a Fast Company article about an interactive map created by the University of Richmond's Digital Scholarship Lab. The article and map, and other articles I read in an attempt to further understand what it meant, describe the impact that redlining had on Tacoma and the other 200 cities that were mapped. 

 

These redline maps, created by a now defunct federal agency called the Home Owners Loan Corporation (HOLC) in the 1930’s, were intended to “document the relative riskiness of lending across neighborhoods.” 

According to a paper by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, these maps classified neighborhoods “based on detailed risk-based characteristics [including] non-housing attributes such as race, ethnicity, and immigration status.” 

If you lived in a red area on the map the mortgage bankers would be less likely to loan you money to purchase your house or to make repairs.  Services that were accessible in other neighborhoods would likely not be available. Opportunities were denied to you and your neighbors and the impact of this systematic racism can still be felt more than 90 years later.

Those red areas on the 1930’s map continue to have reduced home ownership rates, lower house values, and increased racial segregation. In some cases there is still reduced access to after-school activities, fewer healthcare service providers, and even less tree cover on the streets. All of these factors negatively impact the quality of life for the people who live there.

According to an article by the American Heart Association, redlining is also linked to increased risk of diabetes, hypertension, and early mortality due to heart disease due to these negative factors “suppressing economic opportunity and human capital, or the knowledge, skills, and value one contributes to society.”

So why am I talking about redlining now, in the context of this project? 

The reason is that the goal of this project is to give voice to all Tacomans. The goal is to seek out the voices of those who have not had the chance to express themselves before. This project seeks to give folks the opportunity to share their stories and to create a community that listens and actively seeks to better understand our shared history.

In order to achieve this goal we need to ask ourselves some important questions:

  • What part do each of us have, individually and as a community, in enabling the Voices of Tacoma to be heard?

  • How can we ensure we’re not leaving anyone out of the conversation?

  • What can we do to amplify those voices that have not had the chance to be heard before?

So that’s why I talk about a map when I talk about this project. And that’s why I carry around a copy of this map to each of the Voices of Tacoma events, and why I will talk to you, if you stop to listen, about capturing these voices and helping to reverse the impact this history has had on our City. 

I hope you can join the conversation and become a part of the Voices of Tacoma.

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