Thursday, May 05, 2011

Majora Carter: Discovering the Bronx River

Marjora Carter opened the University of Alaska Anchorage and Chugach National Forest's Classrooms for Climate Symposium Wednesday night.

She told how her family moved north to the South Bronx in the 1940s and she grew up in a neighborhood that was always characterized as blighted and which became the trash dump of New York City.

It was only when she was forced by finances to move back home while in grad school that she began to see her neighborhood differently.  While walking her dog one night, they wandered into an illegal dump site and just beyond the site she saw the Bronx River for the first time.

Today that dump site is a beautiful park because of Carter's ability to get grants and coalesce the neighborhood.  In her talk, she brought together a variety of issues - how the waste in the neighborhood caused health problems - including affecting kids' learning abilities.  How the neighborhood and its people were essentially abandoned and it was known as a dangerous neighborhood of crime and drugs, and as a convenient place for the rest of the city to dump its trash.

But starting with park and then going on to green roofs, Carter worked on programs that created hope for the hopeless through training programs and jobs on turning the neighborhood green.  Ex-cons in one of the programs - BEST - went from being what she called 'the most expensive citizens' to productive citizens.  They got off government programs and became tax payers.  The green roofs lowered temperatures in the summer, caught rain water (reducing the runoff that would normally need to be treated by the city water systems, and added greenery to the concrete environment.  She cited studies that showed all sorts of improvements from higher grades to lower teen pregnancy rates for people who had greenery in their environments.

Majora and Judy Bonds
And then she went on to talk about others doing related projects around the country.  Andy Lipkis of TreePeople getting the school district to change their billion dollar school refurbishment program from adding asphalt to making more green areas.  Brenda Palms Barber who in Chicago used beehives to start a skin product business with ex-cons.  Recidivism for her workforce went from 65% to 4%.  Judy Bonds who's green work in coal country started the fight against mountaintop removal mining.  And Winona La Duke. 

I'm reminded that the world's narrative has changed greatly in the last 30 years.  People understand that the environment is important and lots of people are quietly doing many important projects, generally below the radar.  But the work is being done.

Here's a bit of video of Majora Carter's talk at UAA:

The symposium has three days of serious research panels in a program that is aimed at involving UAA students. 

Oh, btw, today Carter has her own for profit consulting firm teaching businesses and communities how to go green.  Green, she said last night, stands for money as well as a clean environment.

Afterward a group from Transition Town Anchorage were discussion the talk and implications for Anchorage.

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