Environment

Majora Carter: Greening The Neighbourhood: Award Winning Environmentalist Speaks About Urban Renewal

 

New York Post awarded Majora Carter the Liberty Medal for Lifetime Achievement for her work in ecological and social awareness. The MacArthur “Genius” Grant was hers for calling attention to what she terms “ecological racism.”

However, the people of South Bronx, New York, know her as the woman who transformed an illegal dump along the waterfront to a tourist-worthy spot of lush greenery and lovely views: In fact, Ms. Carter had her own wedding at the very spot that was once a garbage-strewn wasteland.

A compelling speaker, Ms. Carter addressed issues that everyone who lives in a city – be it Canadian or American or anywhere in the world – asks: Can we afford to be green? How much would cities lose in revenue if they opted for more sustainable industries? Carter addressed these issues in a speech as part of a panel titled, “Greening the Neighbourhood & How Much It Won’t Cost Us.”

University of Toronto’s Hart House seated a crowded room on March 13, 2018. Students, environmental activists and fans of Majora Carter crowded The Great Hall to hear Deputy Mayor Joe Pantalone, Youth Activist Ben Powless and Professor Dr. Blake Poland tackle problems about the cost of greening and raising awareness towards environmentally friendly industry.

Majora Carter Discusses “Greening the Ghetto”

Environmental Racism is defined as the tendency for governments or large businesses to place toxic, dangerous or otherwise unattractive industries in poor neighbourhoods, as she phrased it “the ghettos.” Less affluent neighbourhoods that feature house subsidized housing, or concrete industrial wilderness are less likely to be sustainable, and therefore become less affluent.

Carter’s Jacobean analysis of urban living reveals that cities with concrete jungles are less likely to thrive economically, if surrounding areas are unattractive. Broken windows make a neighbourhood appear derelict, which draws neither tourist industries, nor any investors to that part of town.

Broken Window Theory: Broken Branches

Referring to the “Broken Window” social study that maintains that a building in poor repair invites further vandalism, Carter insists that her mission is not to create a sense of ill will towards neighbourhoods with more advantages, but to create as much opportunity for neighbourhoods like South Bronx as its wealthier counterparts have.

“This is what I would call the ‘Broken Branch’ analysis of the city,” says Carter. While she doesn’t condone vandalism, she does feel the city comes down much too militantly on transgressions. Carter repeats that there are opportunities to use the many skills the residents of South Bronx have and branch out their abilities to teach and learn from others.

“If we give people an opportunity to thrive, people will respond positively. I believe that green industries improve people, improve business – the two work together.” The Sustainable South Bronx (SSBx) project boasts green roofs that reduce the reflective heat as well as providing edible vegetation for the locals.

The garbage recycling programs provides jobs for various individuals, as well as job training and bringing money into the neighbourhood in the form of investors. A sustainable and attractive street is one that generates more income and businesses than a barren, concrete runway.

How Aesthetically Appealing Streets Prevent Crime

An example of community improvement, Carter cites the example of Sustainable South Bronx planting trees on street corners. Trees not only reduced the heat in summer and provided more ambient temperatures in winter, but it also reduced street crime.

Streets that looked pleasant drew more people to sit comfortably and socialize under the boughs. With more neighbours in the street, fewer crimes occured where there were witnesses. With more people getting outside and socializing during daylight and evening hours, the crime rate in the area dropped dramatically.

Part 2 of this article features how she raised awareness and garnered funds towards transforming her neighbourhood towards sustainability.

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