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'We Live Here' Explores Effects Of Environmental Racism In St. Louis

We Live Here Environmental Racism Season Logo with black and white illustration of old St. Louis housing stock and colorful tomatoes, swiss chard, lavender and bees emerging from it.
David Kovaluk
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We Live Here
"We Live Here's" eighth season explores the effects of environmental racism in St. Louis.

Last week, We Live Here debuted the first episode of its eighth season, which is focused on environmental racism. The series builds off the previous two topics, in which co-hosts Lauren Brown and Jia Lian Yang explored the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement. This season showcases the intersectionality among systemic racism, housing conditions and health outcomes.

On Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air, the We Live Here team joined host Sarah Fenske to delve into what the season has to offer.

“Locally, we've had a lot of activists and advocates really interested in environmental racism on a national level. You also hear interest, for example, with the Green New Deal," Yang said. "And the consensus is really that climate issues and issues related to the environment can't be put off any longer. And really, we've been putting them off too long. And one thing that we wanted to point attention to is that Black people have been really saying, ‘Yeah, these are issues that need to be addressed now.’”

The Farm Dreams & Toxic Dust episode follows two local artists, Dail Chambers and Simiya Sudduth, and their efforts to build an educational garden in north St. Louis. Their plans were put on hold as demolitions of nearby vacant buildings are affecting residents’ health.

“They want to bring this community fresh produce. They want to bring more life and more vibrancy to the community, but they're in the midst of this obstacle,” Brown said. The buildings’ old age is a huge factor, making them more prone to carrying things such as lead-based paint and asbestos.

“[Chambers and Sudduth] have been trying to cover the soil and cover the farm with burlap and tarp and things of that nature,” Brown added. “Dail talks about having to stay at a hotel because the air that they were breathing in was just so bad. Sometimes they go out there to clean and they can't even stay long.”

Brown and Yang spoke to city officials including Building Commissioner Frank Oswald and vacancy strategist Laura Ginn about the demolitions. The officials cited budget constraints and a lack of capacity to deal with the matter.

“Racism is not necessarily an interpersonal issue,” Yang said. “You could have people with the best intentions in offices, but also there's a problem when the city allocates money towards demolitions and prioritizes demolitions without allocating money to enforcement, without allocating money to oversight, and also without paying attention to what is the culture of the city of people when they think about different areas.”

Other topics the We Live Here team plans to address this season include the high rates of asthma in St. Louis, reproductive justice and Black activists in the environmental justice movement.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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

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