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Community conversations inspire WSHU's 'Sound Science' series

Bridgeport's Blackrock Harbor
Sabrina Garone
Bridgeport's Blackrock Harbor

Sound Science is a new web series from WSHU, exploring climate challenges, possible solutions and responses in the Long Island Sound region.

The team heard from residents of Bridgeport, New Haven, central Suffolk County and on Long Island’s North Fork, about their ability to live, work and play in a changing environment.

Reporter Davis Dunavin facilitated some of those conversations. He spoke with WSHU’s Sabrina Garone about the experience.

SG: Let's begin by talking a little bit about the Solutions Journalism Network. That is the organization that supported the project. What exactly is Solutions Journalism, and why did the station feel like it was important to implement this kind of reporting?

DD: Well, so much of journalism revolves around problems, right? I mean, that's not a bad thing that we're doing that reporting. We should! We need journalists to draw attention to problems in our communities and our society. But Solutions Journalism explores how people try to solve these problems.

And it's not just about celebration of things that are working, right? This isn't just feel good reporting, okay, here's something that's going well the way that we're, you know, solving climate change. And you know, it's done with the same rigorous application of journalistic principles that we would use for investigative journalism or any kind of public policy reporting. We're not advocating for any kind of solution, we're just exploring whether it works.

SG: And this project, Sound Science, is a collection of climate change solution stories from around our region. And the topics for each of these pieces were inspired by community conversations. Can you tell me a little bit about how those went?

DD: Sure! You know, we reached out to a lot of people. We tried to get people from all walks of life, especially from underrepresented communities. And we got a little creative in our thinking. We didn't want the usual expert voices alone. No, we wanted to have them in the conversation as well, but we wanted pastors, real estate agents, local activists, just residents, homeowners — anybody who is affected, and we all are affected by climate change. And we wanted to sit down with them for wide-ranging discussions, you know, not traditional interviews where we'd come in with an agenda about what we wanted to hear and pass the question over to them and then guide everything. No, we wanted to hear from them about what they wanted to talk about. We wanted to listen.

In Bridgeport we heard from residents who were concerned about things like construction in flood plains. And the story that we ended up telling grew out of some conversations around, you know, what does it mean to bring transit-oriented development into Bridgeport and Fairfield, around a train station that's seen this, just amazing boom in new apartments lately, and is that a good thing or a bad thing? What are the limitations to transit-oriented development as a solution?

SG: I want to jump in with a quick clip here from the Bridgeport conversation. Here is Gail Robinson. She's a realtor in Bridgeport and an advocate for the health of Ash Creek, which is the tidal estuary that's actually right behind the Fairfield Metro station. So here's what she had to say about that.

"So, it's being cheaply built and it's, you know, on the one hand, as environmentalists, we're happy that there's high density around a train station because it's a lot better than, you know, building out in the suburbs. It's not in a flood zone, you know, it's up on higher land. It would take a category three to even touch it, you know, and we really don't get many category threes at this point that could change, that could change."
Gail Robinson

One of the new apartment complexes, called Alto, is located about 100 yards from the train platform.
Molly Ingram
One of the new apartment complexes, called Alto, is located about 100 yards from the train platform.

SG: That's not always, maybe necessarily what people think of when they hear the words 'climate change.' Were there any other topics that folks brought up that you were surprised by?

DD: I think a lot of people are surprised at the ways that climate change works its way into other factors of our lives and our societies, climate change is a huge concern in real estate. Climate change is a huge concern in education, in transportation. And these were topics that came up a lot. We heard, you know, where should we be building, where new developments should go up? And, you know, I think that ended up being one of our biggest topics.

SG: Can you tell us a little bit about New Haven, which is pretty close to Bridgeport, but they had some different concerns.

DD: They are. They are kind of close together but they're worlds apart in a lot of ways. In New Haven, specifically development in floodplains was another big concern just like in Bridgeport. But a lot of the residents singled out plans for an expansion of Tweed Airport, which is being opposed by a local group called 10,000 Hawks. Now they're worried about the air quality. So they did their own study working with researchers at Tufts University to examine air quality around the airport. But that wasn't all. Residents are deeply worried about climate resiliency there, as I think they also were in a lot of the places we spoke with what is going to happen in these seaside communities. You know, communities on Long Island Sound 30, 50 years from now.

SG: Let me bring in another clip here this time from the New Haven conversation. This is Chris Ozick. He lives in the area and is an advocate for urban forestry and environmental justice in the city. He says it's important to bring more people from environmental justice communities into conversations about climate change.

"I work with underserved communities across the city. Very few people ever talk about environmental justice, climate change, any of that type of stuff. They're, they're working, two or three jobs, that is a luxury. All these things that we're all talking about are luxuries for people to have time and energy to put towards that. But when it personally affects your pocketbook, because out here you have more homeowners, you have people that are, are more invested. But in those underserved communities, people are not there by choice. They're out there out of necessity, and so they often feel like they don't have a right to say anything."
Chris Ozick

Tweed Airport.
Davis Dunavin / WSHU
Tweed Airport.

SG: What do you hope comes out of all this?

DD: You know, one of the biggest concerns...we all know about climate denialism, right? We all know that there are people who say that climate change isn't really happening or that it's not caused by humans, but there's also climate cynicism, you know, thinking that, well, we can't do anything so we just have to let it happen. There's no way to stop it and nothing's gonna change. And we want to show that that's not necessarily true. There are things we can do. There are approaches that we can take the to mitigate these effects, especially in our own communities. We can strengthen our communities, we can support long term climate resiliency. And I hope that this helps to reframe that narrative.

Sabrina is host and producer of WSHU’s daily podcast After All Things. She also produces the climate podcast Higher Ground and other long-form news and music programs at the station. Sabrina spent two years as a WSHU fellow, working as a reporter and assisting with production of The Full Story.