Carter (2006) describes race as an ‘extremely reliable indicator’ as to the location of environmentally healthy surroundings. Unfortunately a black person living in America is twice as likely as a white person to live in an area where air pollution places a high risk upon their health. The South Bronx, in New York City, has a significant immigrant population of African origin. 500,000 people have either come from the Caribbean, West Africa or South Africa, making it the eighth largest concentration of African Americans in the United States (Naison, 2005). Jonnes (2002) notes that the Bronx became a black community after the ‘White Flight’ in the 1970s and 1980s.
The South Bronx accommodates for 40% of New York City’s waste disposal, and 100% of the Bronx’s waste disposal. The area is also home to a Sewage Treatment Plant, a Sewage Pelletizing Plant and four electrical power plants. These air-polluting facilities place huge environmental burdens upon the community of the South Bronx (Carter, 2006). In 2000, Majora Carter redefined the notion of environmental equality by transforming the environmental urban degradation that was present in the South Bronx. By collating ideas from people and organisations, Carter managed to shift policies towards positive green economic development in the South Bronx.
In 2001, Majora Carter founded the Sustainable South Bronx, a non-profit environmental justice solutions organisation. Her first project started after she stumbled across the devastating state of the Bronx River. The river was inaccessible due to a rubbish dump being located right next to it. This was the only area within the South Bronx where there was public access to water. Within weeks of her observation Carter anticipated the transformation of the Bronx River into a Riverside Park for the community. Carter managed to get $10,000 in funding from the New York City parks department, and raised $3.2 million in contributions to restore the river (Salman, 2008). Carters project did not stop there, her project intended to ‘Green the Ghetto’, of which included ‘planting gardens on apartment rooftops to turning dumpsites into parks’ (Carter, 2009). Her transformation of the Bronx community housing roofing was expressed through the creation of ‘cool roofs’. Cool roofs do not absorb heat, pass it on to the environment or contribute to the greenhouse effect, and will also help to reduce the cities costs of end of pipe solutions (Carter, 2006).
In the South Bronx many citizens have suffered from a static unemployment rate of 25% and an accumulation of environmentally borne health problems, stopping them from realising their own potential. After the realisation that the project labour was being carried out by imported workers, Carter established a job training and placement system, the Bronx Environmental Stewardship Training (BEST), that would train local people in ecological restoration, so that they could compete for well-paid employment positions, changing the local unemployment statistics (Carter, 2009). The programme has managed to maintain a job placement rate exceeding 80% since 2003.
Majora Carter’s work set out to combat environmental problems facing ethnic minorities, using the ‘green economy’. She is a visionary within the fight for environmental racism justice, and living evidence that something can be done! The green economical mechanisms that she has used could be placed into other communities around the world, reducing the expressions of environmental racism that occur on a daily basis.
The below video features Majora at the TED conference talking about her ‘Green the Ghetto’ project:
Carter, M. (2006). Majora Carter: Greening the Ghetto TED video. Available: http://www.ted.com/talks/majora_carter_s_tale_of_urban_renewal.html. Last accessed 12.03.12.
Carter, M. (2006). Majora Carter Profile. Available: http://www.ted.com/speakers/majora_carter.html. Last accessed 16.03.12.
Carter, M. (2009). Greening the Ghetto. Available: http://www.theroot.com/views/greening-ghetto. Last accessed 14.03.12.
Jonnes, J. (2002). The Next Part of the South Bronx 1972-1978. In: South Bronx Rising: The Rise, Fall and Resurrection of an American City. 2nd ed. New York: Fordham University Press. 335-353
Naison, M. (2005). The Bronx African American History Project. OAH Newsletter. 32 (3), 1.
Picture 1: Greenway – Bronx River Alliance. (2007). Hunts Point Riverside Park. Available: http://bronxriver.org/?pg=content&p=media&m1=25&m2=29&m3=40. Last accessed 15.03.12.
Picture 2: Majora Carter Group. (2006). 10 Women Who Changed the Environment Forever. Available: http://ecopolitology.org/2010/04/22/10-women-who-changed-the-environmental-movement-forever/majora_carter/. Last accessed 16.03.12.
Salman, S. (2008). A river runs through it. Available: http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2008/apr/23/socialexclusion.communities. Last accessed 16.03.12.