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Changing the Look of Poverty

Rosie Willis
Carolina Hidalgo
St. Louis Public Radio
Rosie Willis harvests sweet potatoes that she gives away to volunteers at Fresh Starts Community garden in north St. Louis. Seven years ago, Willis says the now lush garden was full of garbage and drug paraphernalia.

Let’s play a little visualization game.

Close your eyes and imagine what a “wealthy” neighborhood looks like.

What comes to mind?

Maybe leafy trees, nice houses, amenities, parks and businesses. But probably not abandoned buildings, barren streets and empty lots.

Those things often are associated with “poor” neighborhoods.

Let’s do one more visualization.

We want you to imagine a neighborhood that doesn’t have have much money but looks like a neighborhood with money?

Having trouble seeing this one?

You’re not alone. In the community development world it’s widely understood that bringing any kind of change to a struggling neighborhood can take years.

Yet the need for change is urgent. Research suggests blight is associated with serious health problems, not to mention stress associated with poverty.

So what happens when you try to make sure being poor doesn’t means a life surrounded by decay?

On this episode, we bringing you three very different stories about people with a common goal: Changing the look of poverty. Each one is a window into what it really takes to revitalize communities on the ground level.

In the Show

  • Melvin White, a middle aged postal worker who’s out to revitalize streets named after Dr. Martin Luther King across America.
  • Rosie WIllis, a long-time resident of north St. Louis who turned a vacant lot into an award winning community garden.
  • Beyond Housing and 24:1, a collaboration of small municipalities in north St. Louis County who have banded together to help reverse decades of disinvestment.
Kameel Stanley co-hosted and co-produced the We Live Here podcast—covering race, class, power, and poverty in the St. Louis Region—from 2015 to 2018.
Tim Lloyd was a founding host of We Live Here from 2015 to 2018 and was the Senior Producer of On Demand and Content Partnerships until Spring of 2020.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.