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Welcome to Urban By Design Online! This blog is a notebook of my travels as a city planner, historic preservationist and nonprofit advocate. It's a virtual collection of the many things that I adore, featuring cities, the arts, architecture, gardens, interior design, and retail. Enjoy! - Deena
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Entries in South Bronx (1)

Thursday
Feb192009

Urban Advocates: Majora Carter Greens the City

Recently, I went to hear Majora Carter speak in Manhattan at the Museum of the City of New York. She's been heralded as a one of the nation's premier urban environmental activists, and received the coveted MacArthur Foundation's "genius award" in 2005.

Ms. Carter grew up in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx, a neighborhood that experienced sharp decline due to white flight, insurance redlining, and the construction of the Cross-Bronx Expressway, which ultimately led to its economic devastation during the 1970's. She lived in the community during its most tumultuous times, as crack hit its streets, teenaged pregnancy reached epidemic proportions, and the number of murders skyrocketed.

One of the murder victims was her brother.  Majora Carter said that if residents have meaningful choices, and feel a part of the community, then they are more likely to be able to make better decisions for their lives.

During the latter half of the last century, the South Bronx also saw a disproportionate amount of toxic infrastructure projects that were sited in the community. These include four electric power plants, sewage treatment plants, in addition to as many as 60,000 trucks rumbling throughout its streets per week. As a result, area residents have had a number of negative health impacts, which have included high rates of asthma, diabetes, and obesity.

While the United States is experiencing one of its greatest economic declines in its history, Majora Carter pointedly mentioned that this crisis has already existed in America's most impoverished neighborhoods for decades. She also referred to the famous quote by President Theodore Roosevelt, to say that as citizens, there is a shared responsibility to work together to rebuild the nation.  "The welfare of each if us is dependent fundamentally upon the welfare of us all."

In 2001, Majora Carter founded Sustainable South Bronx (SSBX), an environmental justice solutions organization. The nonprofit was created after she was able to oppose plans by the Rudolph Giuliani's administration to build a municipal waste handling facility in the neighborhood. If the project had proceeded, 40 percent of the city's trash would have been processed there.

The lecture showcased some of her ground-breaking work with SSBX. Highlights included receiving a $1.25M Federal Transportation planning grant to for the South Bronx Greenway with 11 miles of alternative transport, local economic development, low-impact storm-water management, and recreational space. To date, more than $30 million has been secured to implement greenway related projects.

The greenway site today, before construction.

 

One major project was the construction of the Hunts Point Riverside Park, which gave the community its first new park in 60 years, and access to the Bronx River.  It was previously used for industrial waste.

Hunts Point Riverside Park site before redevelopment.

The Hunts Point Riverside Park along the Bronx River

Ms. Carter also highlighted some of SSBX's other work, including the implementation of green roofing/walls, urban forestation, and other infrastructure projects that Ms. Carter said contributed "to the reduction of the urban heat island effect, which adds to energy consumption. Cooling our cities is important."

Eradicating poverty by creating access to employment opportunities is another one of Ms. Carter's passions. Another successful SSBX initiative was the development of a green jobs training program. The Bronx Environmental Stewardship Training program, known as BEST. She stated that the green jobs training program has been able to get 85 percent of its members employed, and 10 percent are now in college. Many were once public assistance recipients, while others had been incarcerated.

SSBX also started Smart Roofs, LLC, a social venture that plants green roofs. She mentioned that this was important, because more than 20 percent of surface areas in the urbanized areas are rooftops.

Majora Carter expressed a profound spirit of optimism about America's future, even with the dire economic and environmental issues reaching crisis levels. She now calls this the era of OBAMA, and used it as an acronym meaning, "Officially Behaving As Magnificent Americans. We all have something to bring to this country."

With a keen awareness and mission of "greening the ghetto", Majora Carter recently launched her own for-profit consultancy, The Majora Carter Group, LLC, which is based in Hunts Point, where she still resides. She ended her hour-long discourse by reminding, "The new economy in the OBAMA era, is about making sure that we value everyone."