Theses Doctoral

Cycles of (Dis)-Investment: Federal Intervention and the Long-term Impacts of Heterogenous Development

Xu, Wenfei

In urban development literature, the historical role of disinvestment through redlining and reinvestment through renewal during the period of expanded federal-level involvement is presumed and widely studied. However, there remains relatively little literature systematically examining the impacts of these interventions nationally. In this research, I examine how ideological prejudices are obdurate and path dependent when they become embedded in the built environment through legislation or federal institutions and these can influence neighborhood outcomes over time.

In particular, I study federal redlining and urban renewal related interventions between 1940 and 1970/1980 – as proxied by redlining maps from the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) and the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), as well as urban renewal areas through digitized Urban Renewal Project characteristics maps and predicted through a machine learning process – to examine how these subsequently shaped socioeconomic, demographic, and homeownership and home value in this period, with reverberations in a more contemporary period between 1970/1980 - 2010.

The main gaps in the knowledge relate to the additional impact the FHA had on neighborhood decline and racial segregation beyond existing trajectories and practices by lenders and private real estate stakeholders. Moreover, were these patterns uniform across the country or did they vary regionally based on the differences in the racial composition and economic development across the country? Lastly, no redlining research considers the possibility that urban renewal involved related interventions such as the demolition and new construction that presents a non-random complication to the estimation of redlining’s effects, as these interventions likely took place in the same areas that were redlined.

I find that, using a more representative version of redlining maps in Chicago, the results suggest a negative impact on home values and homeownership rates and weakly decreased segregation for neighborhoods excluded from mortgage guarantees between 1940 and 1980. Moreover, I find that peripheral urban neighborhoods in Sunbelt cities experienced more consistent housing advantages from redlining. And in aggregate, despite disproportionate displacement of Black residents, urban renewal ultimately had a positive impact on economic indicators; however, when stratifying these results by redlining grades, these relationships do not hold true for better graded neighborhoods. In other words, the benefits from renewal are contingent on previous disinvestment.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Urban Planning
Thesis Advisors
Freeman, Lance M.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
January 12, 2022