Majora Carter, Founder and Executive Director Sustainable South Bronx (Photo courtesy of MacArthur Foundation)

Last Spring, Majora Carter, a winner of the McArthur Genius Grant, spoke at Dartmouth College about her experiences with urban revitalization and social justice in South Bronx, New York City, where she was born.

While Carter was born and raised in South Bronx, and attended the Bronx High Schoool of Science, she left her hometown in order to pursue an undergraduate degree at Wesleyan University. During her time at Wesleyan, Carter explained that she tried to “dissociate herself” from her roots in the South Bronx, and to distance herself from an area that she regarded as fundamentally disadvantaged. However, upon returning to New York and the South Bronx while pursuing graduate school at New York University, Carter began to work against the structural injustices that continued to negatively impact the South Bronx community.

Carter has since been actively involved with the revitalization of South Bronx, and has made several major contributions to the community that helped to improve the quality of life for South Bronx residents. Much of Carter’s effort to improve South Bronx have focused on the improvement and incorporation of green spaces in the South Bronx landscape, and on educating young people in the South Bronx to continue the trend of environmental improvement as well as to improve their chances for employment.

Carter was able to capitalize on a $10,000 grant from the U.S. Forest Service to begin waterfront clean-up, and she intentionally built community programming around these activities in order to actively involve residents in the process of improvement. Following her success with this project, Carter was also able to secure a $3,000,000 grant to totally redevelop the waterfront in the Hunts Point Riverside Park, in order to create a comfortable green space for residents within the community. Carter was later awarded the National Award for Excellence in Urban Design for this project.

In her discussion, Carter noted CMAQ, an acronym for “Construction Mitigation and Air Quality,” as a focus for her efforts to improve South Bronx. One of the ways in which Carter strove to improve air quality in South Bronx was through the construction of “greenways,” designed for walking and biking in the city, with planted trees along the way that helped to clean the air.  Along a similar line, Carter secured $1,250,000 in funding in order to install planted medians in the middle of some South Bronx streets to slow traffic and improve air quality.

Recently, Carter has expanded her efforts from a focus on improving the landscape of the South Bronx, to including a focus on intellectual development and education of South Bronx residents to provide young community members with a better opportunity to “rise up and out of poverty.” Carter started the Bronx Environmental Stewardship Training (B.E.S.T.) program to promote wetland restoration on the Bronx River while educating young people with marketable skills. The highlight of this program, Carter noted, was the fact that 85 percent of people who participated in the 12 week program secured employment after the program ended.

Carter ended by noting that economic and environmental equality are strongly interconnected, and highlighting a new project of hers that is dedicated to inspiring an entrepreneurial attitude in South Bronx high school students. Carter has already brought a mobile “FabLab,” or fabrication machine hooked up to a personal computer, to the South Bronx to allow students to make new things and “tweak their imagination of what could happen.” It seems that, going forward, Carter will continue to focus on improving the economic and job prospects of South Bronx residents in order to promote the improvement of the community in an economic and environmental sense.