Sustainable South Bronx Reimagining a Neighborhood

 As a neighborhood, the South Bronx has struggled for nearly three decades under  the negative connotations of its name as a flash point for violent crime,  drugs, and unchecked urban decay. For many of those who live there, life is  bounded on all sides by pollution and poverty.  

 Despite the South Bronx’s fearsome reputation—or perhaps because of it—lifelong South Bronx resident Majora Carter decided to take action and do what  she could to help repair her neighborhood’s image and make it a safer, healthier place to call home. In 2001, Carter  created Sustainable South Bronx (SSBx), an environmental justice solutions  organization addressing land-use, energy, transportation, water & waste policy, and education to advance the environmental and economic rebirth  of the South Bronx, and inspire solutions in areas like it across the nation  and around the world.  

 Starting Out

 “When she started this in 2001, she really started it with the mindset that the  area needed to be an organization that did stuff from the ground floor,” says current SSBx Executive Director Miquela Craytor. “People would point to the South Bronx when discussing examples of urban flight  as an example of what we don’t want to happen, and she grew frustrated with that. There wasn’t much energy being placed on what should happen and she set out to do that.”  

 The mandate from the beginning of the organization was to be proactive in the  community and offering counter solutions to standard practice of development.  

 “They were alternative solutions provided for jobs, green space, healthy  environments for the kids,” Craytor says. “It’s always been about looking for solutions to urban problems, solutions through  economically, sustainable, viable projects.”  

 According to the latest census, more than 40 percent of South Bronx residents  currently live at or below the poverty level. The neighborhood also houses 15  waste transfer stations and four power plants, so there are a number of issues  that SSBx deal with each day.  

 Over the years the organization has grown considerably and has been a major  factor in change being brought about in all sectors of the area through  programs, policy and politics.  

 Finding Jobs

 Although SSBx has many programs aimed at helping the area, the one that has been  the most successful is their Bronx Environmental Stewardship Training, which is  a Green Collar job training program.  

 “This is one of our main and largest programs,” Craytor says. “We have been doing this for five years and started off very small, but have been  able to expand it to train more individuals and now we can train over 60  students a year.”  

 The program is a 10-week intensive program teaching environmental, health,  poverty and quality of life problems by equipping urban residents to work in  so-called “green collar” positions such as in ecological restoration, hazardous waste cleanup, green  roof installation and landscaping.  

 “The people learning come from the South Bronx and East Harlem and other low  income neighborhoods and learn skills that help them deal with ecological jobs.  We are really creating pathways out of poverty,” Craytor says. “They are gaining skills that make them employable and also helps them retain  that employment. One of the biggest struggles is ensuring they understand the  nuances of being a good employee and showing up to work on time, not letting  your personal life affect your job.”  

 Craytor is happy with the program’s success as it has placed 85 percent of the graduates in jobs, with another 10  percent furthering their education through college classes. In February a pilot  program will look to expand the program with job training geared towards the  indoor environment of working with green solutions.  

 “We are training people on how to help buildings be more energy efficient,” Craytor says. “Training how to weatherize buildings, how to look at windows, identify efficient  lighting and assess the building and what goes into making a building  efficient. From what we’ve seen in out research, there has been an increase in these types of jobs. We  see this as a growth industry and training our candidates to be part of this  growth. We’re very proud of our program and excited about the pathways they are on.”  

 Creating Policy

 Helping to create policy is also a goal for SSBx and they try to aim their  policy work as a complement to their programs.  

 “Last year we played an instrumental role with several coalitions in creating  legislation to create incentives for green infrastructure, such as improving  water quality and putting in more trees and green roofs,” Craytor says. “Both as a more cost effective way and as an economic benefit because it creates  jobs. The green roof legislation that passed in June will create incentives for  homeowners to offset costs for retrofitting their homes for increased energy  efficiencies. We’re training folks who can get those opportunities.”  

 Their Green Roofs program provides space for urban agriculture, producing fresh,  healthy food, and educational opportunities for kids and adults. They feel that  this will also create employment opportunities as a higher demand for these  roofs can be filled by many people from low-skill to professional levels.  

 “We encourage the use of native plant species on green roofs as opposed to  selecting for appearance alone,” Craytor says. “We’ve also slowly been getting into creating program for green design and  manufacturing. What we’re looking at is the landscape of the South Bronx and all the waste that comes  through it and using it as a resource. Through a partnership with MIT we have  the ability to have small scale equipment to remanufacture or up-cycle  material. This is a great way for us to hit multiple pieces of engaging fun and  creativity.”  

 The groups’ advocacy and outreach on policies affect the South Bronx community with an  increased attention given to the environment. The South Bronx Greenway Project  is a community led plan for a bicycle/pedestrian greenway along the South Bronx  waterfront, which will provide much needed open space, waterfront access and  opportunities for mixed used economic development.  

 “One of those events is a 5-K walk that is done on the route where the greenway  will be,” Craytor says. “We have a number of outreach events and also fun events.”  

 The South Bronx Greenway will create bike & pedestrian paths around the Hunts Point and Port Morris waterfront, as well as  on-street connections including Hunts Point Riverside Park, the Bazzini Piers,  Tiffany St. Pier, and Barretto Point Park, and a connection to Randall’s Island Sports Complex.  

 Making a Difference

 The Solid Waste and Energy program at SSBx aims to address the problems  associated with the unjust clustering of polluting facilities that receive  waste in all its forms, including rotting garbage, construction and demolition  debris, fill material, waste water, and sewage sludge. It also works to address  wasteful energy consumption and dirty energy generation that is located in the  South Bronx. SSBx tackles these problems through a combination of advocacy  activities aimed at winning increased community accountability for polluters,  more protective government policies, and implementing environmentally sound and  community friendly alternatives to current practices.  

 One example of an issue that SSBx feels strongly about is the new Yankee Stadium  and their belief that they shouldn’t be getting any more tax incentive bonds with the money better being used to  help the area.  

 “From our perspective, this is not the best time for them to ask for more  corporate handouts and we are giving our testifying about this,” Craytor says. “When they city is looking to decrease funding for local groups, for a baseball  team that is the most profitable in the nation, it doesn’t quite make sense.”  

 Another hot topic is the Sheridan Expressway, which they consider a poorly  planned 1.25-mile redundant highway link in the South Bronx. Built at a time  when Robert Moses dictated New York public works projects, the Sheridan  Expressway is one of four expressways that has contributed to the blight,  disinvestment and public health problems plaguing the South Bronx.  

 They are hoping to remove the short stretch of highway, which will reunite South  Bronx neighborhoods, allow residents to access the newly restored Bronx River,  and create space for parks, affordable housing and positive economic  development.  

 The South Bronx handles a full 25 percent of New York City’s waste and has 15 waste transfer stations located within a one-mile radius. As  part of the Organization of Waterfront Neighborhoods SSBx forcefully advocates  to re-distribute New York City’s garbage equitably throughout all parts of the city, and to make garbage export  less noxious, by eliminating long haul diesel trucks and replacing them with  barge and rail export options. SSBx also works to get the best protections  available for stations located in the South Bronx, and to establish benefit  projects that serve to mitigate negative environmental impacts.  

 A Brighter Future

 Craytor works with a full-time staff of 15, some part-time workers and a host of  volunteers, who help on everything from cleaning up databases, creating a  newsletter or just providing member support. There’s also a board that overseas the organization.  

 “Our board is involved in the programs and keeping us on track,” Craytor says. “What’s interesting is our mandate comes form the local level. Over seven years ago,  the neighborhood needed jobs, wanted a cleaner environment and wanted a safer  place for our kids to play. We want affordable housing and our mission is broad  enough to help these in various ways.”  

 With a new president in office and economic uncertainty abound, SSBx is ready  for the challenges that lie ahead.  

 “This is a great opportunity to do something different,” Craytor says. “I am looking forward to ’09 to lead this organization and connect with others to have a larger impact. We  need to synergize our efforts, be strategic and work with one another. It’s a great time for change.”  

 Keith Loria is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor toThe Cooperator.

 

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Comments

  • for fifty years bronx has been a rotten place. the govenment stepped in and rebuilt burned down bronx. still bronx remains a dispicable example of what not to do. bronx is a welfare state in need of full on martial law. the rhetoric of twisted do gooders is on display in bronx.. bronx is an on-going hemoraging example of speical intrests demanding public funds to sustain unsuportable incouragable people. but what if.???? strong dracnonian measures expidite sucees.