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Health, Science, Environment

Nature Conservancy Creates Tool To Show Environmental Challenges Of St. Louis Region

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The Nature Conservancy in Missouri
The Nature Conservancy in Missouri created the St. Louis EcoUrban Assessment Tool to highlight environmental challenges in the St. Louis region. The layered blue dots on the map indicates public schools in the area, and the red shaded area showcases where environmental issues contribute to air pollution. The green, yellow and blue shadings point out the areas most at risk for pluvial and fluvial flooding.

The Nature Conservancy in Missouri developed an online data tool to help St. Louisans learn about environmental challenges faced by communities of color and low-income neighborhoods in St. Louis, St. Louis County, and Madison and St. Clair counties.

The St. Louis EcoUrban Assessment Tool allows users to find places with low tree canopy rates, poor air quality, flooding issues and areas with limited access to food and parks.

Those problems persist in neighborhoods in north St. Louis, north St. Louis County and East St. Louis, said Rebecca Weaver, cities program manager for the Nature Conservancy in Missouri.

“We know that frontline communities — low-income communities and communities of color — are disproportionately impacted by environmental challenges,” Weaver said. “And it's also oftentimes they’re communities that receive the least amount of resources.”

The conservancy began to create the online tool nearly a year ago, after analyzing a report on environmental racism in St. Louis. The organization worked with other environmental justice organizers who helped prepare the report to help map various environmental, public health and socioeconomic concerns in the region.

Anyone using the EcoUrban tool can search by community assets, demographics, flood risk, park access and quality, air quality, food access, vacancy in the city of St. Louis and toxic waste.

Weaver said in St. Louis and St. Louis County, as well as Madison and St. Clair counties, officials can use the tool as a resource to prioritize environmental efforts and bring funding to communities of color impacted by environmental problems.

“Hopefully, services, financial support, planning and policy change can be directed and targeted in those areas and work with communities that are on the ground already,” Weaver said.

The tool can highlight the environmental disparities that exist in the region, said Leah Clyburn, senior organizing representative for Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign.

Clyburn plans to use the tool to start conversations about coal use and its effects on St. Louisans.

She hopes the mapping tool allows people in the region to realize that if certain environmental issues affect communities of color, they also affect the region as a whole.

“The reason why many folks are leaving from St. Louis city into the county is because they're just looking for something better. Well, better can be at home if we make it known that better is needed,” Clyburn said. “And so this mapping will actually give community folks the release of thinking that these issues solely affect them and that it's actually affecting everyone.”

Follow Andrea on Twitter: @drebjournalist

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