Urban Roots is Urbanist Media’s award-winning narrative documentary podcast that preserves places through story.
The podcast began in 2020, when Deqah Hussein-Wetzel, a Cincinnati-based historic preservationist focused on preserving places significant to people of color, joined forces with Vanessa Maria Quirk, a New York-based cities journalist and co-host of the City of the Future podcast. Deqah was all too familiar with the ways that top-down, systemic, and racist decisions have left communities of color bereft of the physical assets that were once/are still meaningful to them — and wasn’t shocked to find that fewer than 2% of sites on the National Register of Historic Places pertained to African American History. She started the podcast not just to raise awareness around the need to preserve physical places significant to women and people of color — the tangible artifacts of history — but to preserve the intangible stories of the people who gave these places meaning. Oftentimes in communities of color, these stories are the only remnants left.
Urban Roots is unique in that, for each episode, we partner with local organizations to find community members who can guide us to the stories of people/places most in need of preservation. We also highlight people across the country doing the multi-generational work of equitable preservation-based development. We give voice to these folks on the ground who are working to protect their communities, redress the inequities of the past, and build a more inclusive future.
We’re always on the hunt for partners to help us tell little-known stories of underrepresented and marginalized groups — and how they’re navigating preservation and equitable development today.
Have an idea or want to collaborate with or sponsor us? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Our first season, made possible by a Truth & Reconciliation Grant from Artswave, focused on three black neighborhoods in Cincinnati, showing how they each were impacted by the highway and urban renewal. Our second season went around the country: we explored the African American lots of Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, the legacy of Biddy Mason in Los Angeles, and the past and future of Indianapolis’ once-thriving black corridor, Indiana Avenue (made possible by a grant from Indiana Humanities). Our third season, currently in development in partnership with Vanport Mosaic, will highlight the story of the lost City of Vanport and the impact of its destruction on working class Portlanders of African, Japanese, and Indigenous American descent.
In between seasons, we’ve also started airing bonus interviews with people pushing a paradigm shift toward equity in preservation and development. Our interviews with Vishaan Chakrabarti and Brent Leggs are excellent places to start.
During this virtual Q&A, you’ll hear directly from our guests, go behind the scenes of the podcast, and dive even deeper into Los Angeles’ little-known African American history, and the story of Biddy Mason.
Hear straight from our guests, who happen to both be staff members at Green-Wood Cemetery, share more on the work they are doing to uncover gravesites and resurface underrepresented histories to light.
Check out the short film we made for the ArtsWave Truth & Reconciliation grant showcase at the Freedom Center that highlights the rich African American history of Cincinnati's West End neighborhood! Photos provided by the Robert O'Neal Multicultural Arts Center (ROMAC) archives, one of our community partners.
In 2023, we held a series of in-person Listen & Learns in Cincinnati's Avondale, South Cumminsville, and Evanston neighborhoods.
Easily donate to us via PayPal. If you want the funds to go directly to the podcast, just note that in the comments.