In early January of 2020, Polk County Housing Trust Fund opened Undesign the Redline, a new exhibit linking current political and social issues with historical housing discrimination in the city. The exhibit, created by the Polk County Housing Trust Fund and social impact firm, Designing the WE, includes loan corporation maps from the 1930s, depicting the areas of Des Moines where low-income communities are grouped.

Undesign the Redline is on view at Franklin Junior High School until April of 2020 and examines how government policy from the 1930s to current day created segregation and disinvestment in some Des Moines communities while benefiting others.

Redlining designed racism into the landscape of America, it has never been undone. The Undesign the Redline exhibit unpacks this history, demystifies policies that reinforce this legacy and explores what we can do now to “undesign” decisions that perpetuate inequity in our communities. As the exhibit travels throughout the United States, localized stories and information is collected and displayed. This process is now taking place in Des Moines with the guidance of a Community Advisory Committee and PCHTF. This new research will look at the events surrounding discriminatory lending practices, Urban Renewal projects, the demolition of Center Street, and personal stories related to discrimination and segregation in Des Moines. The exhibit also allows its viewers to reflect and discuss ways to re-frame, re-design and re-invest in the neighborhoods impacted.

Throughout the timeline section of the exhibit, Des Moines and Iowa specific events depict how national trends, policies and community action truly influenced what was happening on the ground here in Iowa. From the Underground Railroad and farming strikes to New Deal Redlining and Homeownership policies, from Urban Renewal to the Civil Rights Movement, and from the War on Drugs to Black Lives Matter, Des Moines and the State of Iowa have been submerged in these moments and movements. Reading how local events, which are close to home for many Iowans, especially the African American community, fit into the larger picture of what was going on in the nation is eye-opening and provides perspective about the impact they had on our community.  The exhibit includes conversations with older Des Moines residents who experienced firsthand the enforcement of unfair housing policy. Their stories reflect on the displacement they experienced and how they, as African American residents, were able to create new communities. These stories provide a glimpse into the problems that were created by federal policy and local decision-makers and the impact they had and still have on the greater Des Moines community, and more specifically the African American community. We believe these community insights compel viewers of the exhibit to think deeply about how policy and action affect the African American community in Des Moines and start to have conversations on what we can do to mitigate and remedy those actions through better, more equitable, community-based policy-making and planning efforts.