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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

City Life

Air Date: Week of

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For the past two years, Living on Earth has been teaching radio production to students at nearly a dozen, mostly inner-city schools across the country. Not surprisingly, the students have an instant understanding of the most immediate urban environmental issues –safe, livable neighborhoods, a sense of community and of course, the dream of a faster school bus. For Earth Day, we share some of their stories with you.


CURWOOD: For more than two years, Living on Earth has been bringing the skills of environmental radio journalism to students in nearly a dozen schools across the nation. We call it the Ecological Literacy Project, and most of our schools are in urban areas. For Earth Day, we share some of their stories with you.

CINTRON: I live in the part of Camden known as South Camden. Across the street from my home is an abandoned house, one of dozens in my part of town.

CURWOOD: Rebecca Cintron is a senior at Camden High School in Camden, New Jersey.

CINTRON: It has been unoccupied for the past eight years. About four years ago the house caught on fire, but the fire wasn't merciful enough to burn the house down. The flames left the house charred, doors gone, and a huge hole in the roof. And there it still stands, making the rest of the houses on my block look dirty. Now that house is a health hazard, jeopardizing the safety of the people in the neighborhood.

There are times when I am sitting on my steps and I see rats from the abandoned house running across the street. The yard next to the house is full of trash and weeds. The filth is attracting all kinds of bugs, like ticks and roaches. These bugs wander and become a menace to the surrounding houses.

When I was younger, the house was a drug house. There were always a lot of people walking in and out. One day the police raided the house and everyone inside the house got arrested, including the owner. And after the house caught fire, nobody could live there. Unfortunately, this is not the only abandoned house in Camden. There are hundreds of abandoned houses in my city. Sometimes people leave because they can't afford it anymore. Like the house on my block, the owner gets arrested and the city never does anything about the property.

Whatever the reason, the city of Camden needs to do something about the house. Officials could just knock down the house and build another in its place. If not, the city should demolish it and just leave it as an empty lot: cleaned and safe. Or they should put the property up for sale. Maybe someone will want to buy it and fix it up. But a solution has to be found fast. The city needs to take action before something bad happens. The house could catch fire again and someone could get hurt this time. Or some of the neighborhood kids could be playing inside and pieces of the house could fall on them.

I personally think that there are so many abandoned houses in Camden because the city is lazy. If more people spoke out, maybe something could get done. But sometimes I feel like I'm the only one who cares.

CURWOOD: That was Camden High School senior Rebecca Cintron. Up in Harlem, one landlord is trying to do something about the environment by sprucing up his apartment building. But eighth-grader Tasha Eaddy is angry that she and her friends are being swept off the front stoop in the process.


FEMALE 1: Why you gotta jump like that?

FEMALE 2: I told you I jumped ...(inaudible).

EADDY: I used to hang out in front of my building with my friends. We watched people walk past and look how they dressed, and gossip and flirt, and play double dutch and laugh. One night my mother came back from a tenants meeting and told us it was going to be some new rules. The landlord said that we can't hang out in front of the building, no more loitering in the hallways. If you get written up three times, you're going to have to find another place to live.

The landlord thinks that we shouldn't stay in front of the building. It's because he thinks we sell drugs and drink, that sometimes leads to fighting. Me and my friends don't do that stuff. We don't cause any trouble. The landlord wants us to stay in the back yard, but the sand is dirty and people used to get ringworms from it and that's disgusting. The bench is broken and we don't have no swings anymore. The landlord is fixing it up. The only thing he has fixed already is the basketball court.

We could walk to the park but our mothers don't want us to walk there alone. The landlord is fixing up a bunch of stuff, putting in a new fence, putting in new swings and seesaws. If we get people who are causing problems to move out, he will get new people to move in. He wants the new people to feel welcome and safe and feels that nothing is going to happen.

People who don't deserve it are really getting written up. My family already have two letters and they’re not my fault. My brother's friends shook a wet umbrella on the security guard and got him wet, and the guard blamed it on my brother. I don't know how the guard could mistaken my brother, because they really don't look alike except they have really dark skin. Then, a week later, my mom's friend came to visit. He left and went downstairs and waited for someone. The guard told the landlord he was loitering, so my family got another letter. If we get one more, that means we have to find a new place to live.

It's not fair. I'm tired of staying in the house every Saturday and Sunday. I like to watch TV, but sometimes I like to go outside and get some air. Me and my friends just want to hang out, that's all.


CURWOOD: Tasha Eaddy is an 8th grader at Harbor Arts and Science Charter School in New York City. When asked to write about somewhere that gave him a sense of place, senior Byron Huitz chose to write about the sometimes dangerous, sometimes liberating train tracks that run near his home in the Hyde Park section of Los Angeles.

HUITZ: Walking on top of red and grey rocks, knocking them over, looking on the wall for graffiti painted in black and silver, balancing myself on one rail that's connected to old brown wood, I remember when I was four years old, walking along these railroad tracks, walking alone on my way to kindergarten, stepping over the wood cracking when I’m on top, taking a look over my shoulders, seeing a big yellow light coming slowly towards me.

It was here when I was in first grade the first time I seen a girl get jumped. I was with my friend coming from school. I saw two groups of girls that were arguing. One group was wearing black football jackets. The rest of them wore white t-shirts. As we got closer, the conflict started to ignite more and more, like a cigar. One of the girls that had a football jacket picked up a bright-colored brick and tossed it in another girl's head, knocking her down on the ground. Blood began to drip out of her head and down her cheek. I saw her white shirt turn red. My friend stayed to watch but I was disturbed and left by myself.

As I got older, I started to like the tracks. When I was 12 years old I used to ride by on my bicycle, slowly so I could see the new graffiti on the wall. I was curious to see the new characters or anybody crossing out another crew.

A few times I rode the trains, even though they were just meant for cargo. Sometimes I ride to my friend's house. I waited for the train to pass by and then I would chase it, throwing my backpack on first. The most exciting part was that adrenaline rush getting into the cargo, because that was a ticket if police caught you.

Then last year, the line got shut down and the trains stopped coming. Right now, as I go through the railroad tracks, I don't hear any more whistles blowing by. Less graffiti on the walls, less crime. No more traffic waiting for the train to pass by.

CURWOOD: That was Byron Huitz, a senior at Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles. Stealing rides on a freight train is one way to get around, but for many people living in the city, buses are the only way to get where they're going. Chicago high school 9th grader Tiana Clemens spends an hour a day riding the bus home from school, but sometimes, she says, it feels like an eternity.

CLEMENS: I wonder how long is it going to be for me to get to my destination. The bus is late yet again, picking us up from Queen of Peace High School. As I sit on the bus, I look out the window and see how much of a beautiful day it is. Beauty, but so cold.

We sit here and wait on the bus for quite some time, and then we finally pull off.


I sit here continuing to look out the window as the bus jerks back and forth, stopping and going. In the car, this happens but believe me, it's much more of a comfortable and peaceful ride. But with a car, all you have to worry about is the bobbing and weaving in and out of traffic. You don't have to worry about stopping and picking up people and sitting next to the most disgusting person you've ever seen.

We make a stop, and I look out the window. And as I look, I see litter upon litter upon litter on someone's grass. I ask myself, how can someone throw it down there? And how can someone else just leave it? But then I think about all the times I've done it myself.

The bus moves so slowly and traffic will be so much easier if the buses and trucks had their own lane, because then you wouldn’t have to worry about being caught being a slow bus or a slow truck. [laughs] I sit here and imagine the bus flying over cars, getting me to my destination quicker.

The bus stops at my stop.


As I get off the bus, I look back at the bus and I wonder, how long will it take for someone else to get to their destination with the jerks back and forth, back and forth? Will you ever get to your destination on time?

CURWOOD: Tiana Clemens is a ninth-grader at Queen of Peace High School in Chicago. She produced her commentary for Living on Earth's Ecological Literacy Project.


CURWOOD: To hear more stories by students, please check our website at loe.org. We had help from a number of teachers and mentors this week in helping to put together the student commentaries. Special thanks to Cynthia Thomashow at Antioch New England; Mhari Saito, Gwen Shaffer, and Lynn Johnson in Camden; Miyuki Jokiranta and Jen Watt in New York; Tammy Bird Beasley and Dennis Foley in Los Angeles; and Jesse Hardman and Anna Kraftson-Hogue in Chicago.

[MUSIC: West African Balafon Ensemble “Farfina” The Pulse of Life – Ellipsis (1992)]

CURWOOD: Elephants never forget. That's what I said when my safari guide in the African savanna asked me what I knew about elephants. That's right, he said, but there's something more. Elephants also regard this place as their own, and we are merely tolerated as intruders as long as we follow the rules. We couldn't get too close in our Land Rover, we shouldn't make rude gestures or sounds, and we needed to keep an eye on those big ears. If those ears started flapping, it meant we were being challenged and we needed to back down. Oh yeah, one other thing the guide said: we'll always keep the Land Rover headed in a direction where we can hit the gas and be gone. On a bumpy track, he warned, the elephants could almost outrun a truck.

It didn't take us long cruising across the savanna to find a herd of elephants. They stopped and we stopped, and a baby waddled under his mother, tucked his trunk to one side, and began to nurse. Mother elephant gave us a glaring eye from atop her magnificent face, and we stayed still. And then I thought she even smiled a bit with pride as we quietly drove away.

Sometime later I met a colleague who was just back from Pilandsberg National Park and he was breathless. "You wouldn't believe the elephants!" he exclaimed. “A couple of them were lined up together, their ears flapping, when suddenly they started to charge. My guide jammed the truck into reverse, spun it around and stood on the gas just moments before I think they would have got us.”

Living on Earth wants to give you a chance to get up close to elephants in the wild on your own African safari, as long as you remember to watch those ears. Thanks to Heritage Africa, we're giving away a 15-day trip for two on the ultimate African safari, with visits to several of Africa's most spectacular game preserves, such as Kruger, where I saw these elephants, and the Serengeti.

For more details about how to win this 15-day African safari, just go to our website, loe.org. That's loe.org, for the trip of a lifetime.


ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the Oak Foundation, supporting coverage of marine issues, and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation. Support also comes from NPR member stations and the Noyce Foundation, dedicated to improving math and science instruction from kindergarten through grade 12, and Bob Williams and Meg Caldwell, honoring NPR's coverage of environmental and natural resource issues, and in support of the NPR President's Council.



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