"Racist" Twin Cities maps make point about interstate highways [IMAGES]

The "super racist" Minneapolis map we wrote about last month is actually intended to make a point about America's interstate highway system, Geoff Maas, the cartographer who put it together, tells us.

By overlaying maps created in 1935 by sociologist Dr. Calvin Schmid for a study entitled, "Saga of Two Cities: An Ecological and Statistical Study of Social Trends in Minneapolis and St. Paul," with more recent maps of the interstate highway system, Maas aimed to show how interstates were built to bisect some of Minneapolis and St. Paul's poorest neighborhoods.

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Here's Schmid's original map:

Here's Schmid's map of Minneapolis's "Vice Areas":

And finally, here's Maas's overlay:

"Past policies (pre-Civil Rights era) enabled poorer or economically disadvantaged communities to be targeted more easily for large projects like highways," Maas wrote to us in an email. The map is "a way to highlight the wrongs of our past and to ensure that these kinds of public policies and actions do not occur again... [it's] a stern reminder of how our nation used to operate. We sometimes need to see, visualize and fully understand our difficult past in order to move beyond it."

Maas, a mapmaker and urban planner, put together his Minneapolis map for the Harrison Neighborhood Association. He says he volunteered to do the work because he "did not believe that profit should be sought from this project for moral or ethical reasons."

He recently put together the same sort of map for St. Paul, which we'll publish on Blotter tomorrow. (Update -- see the St. Paul version here.)

With regard to Schmid's original map, Maas says, "It wasn't a policy to say, 'We're going to force people to live in this area,' but people with money tend to live near the river and lakes."

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"People with less money and minorities seem marginalized in areas near railroads and industrial areas," Maas continues during a followup interview. "I laid modern road networks over [Schmid's map] to show that it was kinda a policy to go through the path of least resistance. It was easier to put the highway through minority neighborhoods of 'Working Men's Homes.'"

But Maas says projects like Green Line LRT -- which also cuts through a neighborhood largely populated by lower- and middle-income folks -- are a "different animal" than interstate highways.

"Light rail brings in stops and interesting mixed-use development if it's done right," Maas says. "It brings in a swirl of activity."

We asked Maas what he regards as the biggest takeaway from his work.

(For more, click to page two.)


"I want city planners and urban theorists to understand that things didn't just spring out of the ground, they happened because of a lot of different processes," Maas replies. "The message is, know your history. North Minneapolis is known as the largest concentration of African Americans in the state and it's an area of significant economic need, and there's a lot of industrial areas where folks were shunted off -- 'Try and survive here on the railroad tracks.'"


"It's about marginalizing certain populations, and I'm someone who is a big advocate of social and environmental justice," Maas continues. "With these maps [I hoped to show] that if large amounts of public dollars are going to be spent on these projects, that they [should] benefit everybody... It's important to realize that the landscape and conditions of what we have are long, complicated processes, and that public investments shape the city."

Maas says he intentionally preserved the racially provocative language from Schmid's original work.

"It gets people looking at it and talking about it," he says. "I put a disclaimer on it -- 'Taken from original source' -- but some folks see a charged word and they immediately scream, 'This is racist!' You can't get around it."

Asked whether the tight fit between poor and minority neighborhoods and the interstate highways that came later surprised him, Maas says it didn't, though he was "surprised at how cleanly they fit."

"If you look at the Minneapolis map you can see how [the interstate] curves through 'Working Men's Homes' and shoots toward the black neighborhood," he says. "It's pretty clear to me the path of least resistance is where they allowed the highways. I figured it would be something like that but was surprised at how focused it way."

Send your story tips to the author, Aaron Rupar. Follow him on Twitter @atrupar.