Date of Award

Spring 2021

Degree Type




Director of Thesis

Conor Harrison

First Reader

Christopher Krause

Second Reader

Christopher Krause


The residential area in which someone lives can determine their lifestyle — from with whom they interact to where they shop, eat, and visit — as well as their life outcome, through factors such as school zoning and mortgage availability. Historically, American cities have developed along racial and socioeconomic lines as a result of federal, state, and local policies, lending practices, and explicit social pressures. No more is this clear than through the creation and use of the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation redlining data, a set of maps produced by the federal government that divided cities into neighborhoods, rated those areas based on factors of desirability, and encouraged lenders not to provide mortgage loans to residents of low-rated neighborhoods. In this project, I study the socio-geographic evolution of Columbia’s neighborhoods by documenting how neighborhoods were created, maintained, and transformed throughout the twentieth century with a focus on racial and socioeconomic segregation. I find that racially discriminatory policies of redlining and urban renewal profoundly shaped the residential neighborhoods in Columbia and the lasting impacts are seen in today’s landscape.

The urban landscape is a reflection of what society considers important, historic, and worth investing in, and the physical environment reinforces social norms and attitudes. Yet typical public history initiatives focus on select areas and landmarks – often spaces of privilege and whiteness – which erase the history of marginalized communities. This project seeks to recognize the Columbia community as a whole, including traditional “historic” neighborhoods as well as overlooked neighborhoods, by producing a website and accompanying research article that illuminates the processes that created physical and racial divisions in the city.


Visit the website accompanying this thesis for maps, images, and videos.

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© 2021, Sophie Kahler