“Poisoned by Zip Code,” a site-specific installation by Dallas-based visual artist Ari Brielle, spotlights South Dallas resident Marsha Jackson and her fight for environmental justice in the Floral Farms neighborhood. The artwork debuted as a part of “Rooted,” an exhibition now on display at the Dallas Museum of Art that features over 50 works from the DMA’s collection and collectively explores how people both shape and adapt to their changing environments.
In 1995, Jackson moved to Floral Farms, an agriculturally oriented neighborhood just outside Dallas’s Great Trinity River Forest. Twenty-three years later, the now-defunct Blue Star Recycling out of McKinney began dumping crushed roofing shingles in Floral Farms just feet away from Jackson’s backyard. Despite her pleas to the city to stop the illegal dumping, the shingles continued to pile up, eventually constituting 100,000 pounds of hazardous material reaching six-stories high.
Residents living near “Shingle Mountain” began complaining of asthma, black phlegm, and other respiratory ailments. “Our community has been hurting,” says Jackson in an interview with Dallas architecture firm HKS. “People don’t understand what we’ve been through and what we’re still going through — the headaches, the breathing problems, inflammation of our vocal cords. What we’ve been through will always be a legacy of Black history in Dallas.”
Sadly, tales of environmental injustice are not uncommon. In 2020, Paul Quinn College in Dallas published a report, also entitled “Poisoned by Zip Code,” which found that residents of southern Dallas ZIP code — predominantly communities of color — had higher exposure to air pollution than those in wealthier, whiter ZIP codes in the city’s north.
When calls to the city didn’t resolve the issue, Jackson formed Southern Sector Rising (SSR), a nonprofit aimed at protecting marginalized communities and fighting the racist zoning laws that cause environmental injustice. SSR partnered with other local organizations like Downwinders at Risk — a clean air advocacy organization in North Texas — and the Neighborhood Self-Defense project to take on the city of Dallas.
Shingle Mountain was finally removed in February 2021, three years after Jackson’s first complaint to the city. The land is now on track to become a new city park, but the debris left traces of lead in the soil that must still be remediated. The neighborhood is partnering with HKS, through the firm’s Citizen HKS initiative, as well as local activists, the Dallas Regional Chamber, and the Dallas Stars Foundation to bring this new vision for the neighborhood to life. Residents say planting a scenic park where Shingle Mountain once stood will help them reclaim their neighborhood identity.
A panel discussion entitled “Poisoned by Zip Code, Mended by Design” featuring artist Ari Brielle, community activist Marsha Jackson, HKS architect Erin Peavey, AIA, and Evelyn Mayo of Downwinders at Risk was held on March 5 at the DMA. A video recording of the discussion is available on the museum’s website. “Rooted” is on display through April 9, 2023.