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'Segregation By Design' Puts St. Louisans In Conversation With Harris-Stowe, Wash U Scholars

Catalina Freixas (at left) and Mark Abbott are co-editors of the newly released volume "Segregation by Design: Conversations and Calls for Action in St. Louis." Along with photographs and conversations, the book includes essays by current and former St. L
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

Back in 2014, Catalina Freixas and Mark Abbott each wanted to reach a better understanding of the different ways that segregation happens in cities, including St. Louis. But in order to get there, the two local professors knew they needed to draw on the expertise and experiences of others in the region.

“I’m an architect, Mark is a historian – we have some knowledge about segregation, but segregation has so many shades,” Freixas said during Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air. “So that posed another question, [and that] was: Who else can we bring to the table to help us make this project stronger?”

In the end, they gathered the perspectives and participation of 52 people, all of which informs their newly published book “Segregation by Design: Conversations and Calls for Action in St. Louis.”

The volume features a variety of locally based conversations, as well as essays by current and former St. Louisans in response to those conversations, reflecting on the experience of segregation in America.

“There is [also] a lot of discussion about potential mitigation strategies,” said Abbott, who is a professor emeritus at Harris-Stowe State University. “And it really emphasizes the need to achieve equity and how to go about doing that.”

Made possible through Washington University’s grant-funded Divided City initiative as well as an interdisciplinary grant, the project was in its infancy when Ferguson teenager Michael Brown was killed by a police officer in August 2014.

“I always want to have hope, and I think [that] Michael [Brown] gave me hope,” said Freixas, who is an assistant professor in the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts at Washington University.

Along with co-editing the new book, she and Abbott have co-taught a course for Wash U and Harris-Stowe students the past four years that is also titled “Segregation by Design.”

Through it, their students work closely with residents of city neighborhoods to understand existing dynamics as well as seek solutions that might mitigate the effects of segregation over time.

What they see in their students has made them more optimistic about the future, Abbott said.

“I see a real interest by the students in bringing about change,” he added.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Alex HeuerEvie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.

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Evie is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

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