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Self-Guided Tour

URBAN RENEWAL,

redlining, and their impact on Trenton's cultural life

In the mid-1930s, the federal Home Owners Loan Corporation (HOLC) created insurance risk maps for major cities. Neighborhoods were graded A through D and color-coded with the highest-risk areas in red - “redlined”. A neighborhood got a lower grade if it had more industry, smaller/older homes, and residents that were poor, immigrant, or Black. It became nearly impossible to get a loan to buy, build, or rehab a property in redlined areas, at the same time that new federal loans were boosting new construction in the suburbs. 

 

As a result, large parts of Trenton, including almost all of its Black or racially-mixed neighborhoods, were cut off from resources to grow and thrive. Soon after, more federal policies allowed cities to designate areas for “urban renewal”, meaning that the city or state could take all properties in those neighborhoods and tear them all down. Officially this was to build something “better”. In reality, it gave us a lot of dead space that eroded even more of the neighborhoods around it.

 

Trenton is badly scarred by the effects of these policies, which destroyed neighborhoods, pushed out residents and businesses, and wiped out the tax base. We hope this tour illustrates, first, how destructive these policies still are. But we also hope you appreciate just how resilient Trenton is. Our residents and creative community -- despite 90 years of top-down oppression -- create amazing things and celebrate the city. Join us on Art All Day and every day in supporting them.

Tour starts and ends at Artworks, 19 Everett Alley [show map].

Before redlining - 1930
Before redlining - 1930

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HOLC map (1936)
HOLC map (1936)

This part of downtown was surrounded on three sides by redlined areas, which led to disinvestment here as well.

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Puerto Rican restaurant on Stockton St (1970)
Puerto Rican restaurant on Stockton St (1970)

Image source: Trenton Magazine, Nov 1970.

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Before redlining - 1930
Before redlining - 1930

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Hanover Academy / Old Trenton

51 North Stockton Street

- Trenton Community A-TEAM Studio 51 (AAD site #9)
- Roberto Clemente mural, LANK and Leon Rainbow, 2014

This neighborhood is one of Trenton’s oldest, and it has always been diverse: by the early 1800s it had Trenton’s first African American church (on Perry St) and an African American burial ground (on Academy or Hanover, per different sources), as well as a synagogue on Montgomery St. It developed industry adjacent to the D&R Canal, now Route 1, and the railroad on the north. In the early 20th century it had a mix of uses, including a hub of small financial companies.

Redlining targeted residential neighborhoods. As most of Hanover-Academy was considered part of the commercial downtown it was not redlined itself -- but it was surrounded on three sides by areas graded D. While it escaped the clearcutting approach of urban renewal, it did experience significant disinvestment in the mid-20th century, which is part of why Trenton’s Puerto Rican community was able to settle here from the 1950s-80s. Luckily, most of the historic neighborhood remains, and a number of residents and organizations like TCAT and Isles are working to keep it a vibrant home for community and the arts.