Do Maps Make Geography? Part 1: Redlining, Planned Shrinkage, and the Places of Decline


  • Manuel B. Aalbers KU Leuven / University of Leuven Department of Geography



mapping, redlining, New York City, NY, urban history, social exclusion, neighborhood decline, performativity


Maps are not only representations of the world, they also have the ability to change the way we think about and act upon places depicted in those maps. This paper argues that maps may have descriptive as well as prescriptive and performative qualities, meaning that mapping contributes to the making of geography. Then, in a way, the map becomes the vehicle to study power/knowledge re/production in action. I do this by looking at the ideology behind and practice of developing neighborhood typologies and mapping places of decline. Four cases are presented to illustrate the argument: take 1 discusses the public production of redlining maps from the 1930s until the 1970s; take 2 focuses on ideas of “planned shrinkage”, “urban triage” and “benign neglect” in late 1960s and 1970s New York City and Washington, DC; take 3 is a discussion of the postKatrina planning and rebuilding of New Orleans and how these processes are imagined in maps produced by public and private entities; and take 4 focuses on urban decline, mortgage foreclosures and the mapping of “distressed” places in the City of Cleveland. (Takes 3 and 4 will be discussed in the sequel.) The first two takes together hint at the origins of “neoliberal urbanism” in the promotion of such ideas by Babcock, Hoyt, HOLC and FHA in the 1930s, and Hoover and Vernon, Downs sr. and jr., Starr, RAND, Moynihan and Shalala in the post-war years.



How to Cite

Aalbers, M. B. (2015). Do Maps Make Geography? Part 1: Redlining, Planned Shrinkage, and the Places of Decline. ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies, 13(4), 525–556.