Eco issues may be the hot topic these days, but for Majora Carter, it has always been a major concern. She founded Sustainable South Bronx (SSBx) to help educate the community about the environment as well as get funding to clean up and sustain the area.
“The organization was founded to address the many environmental and inequity issues facing the South Bronx that were going unaddressed in a comprehensive way. Lots of groups and leaders would point to the South Bronx as the poster child of blight, but few remained to implement solutions,” says Miquela Craytor, SSBx executive director. “The organization’s whole point of being was to create tangible solutions to the problems affecting the community – environmental injustices, lack of economic opportunity, inequitable policies. We are addressing these problems by being pro-active as opposed to reactive, and offering solutions through our programs.”
Carter formed SSBx in 2001 as a non-profit environmental justice solutions organization. She left two years ago to start her own for-profit consulting firm to address issues of sustainability.
One of SSBx´s first projects was the creation of Hunt’s Point Riverside Park as well as a “green roof” project in the South Bronx. SSBx also started a “green-collar” job-training program called Bronx Environmental Stewardship Training Program (B.E.S.T.). B.E.S.T. helps urban residents learn about ecological restoration, hazardous waste cleanup, green roof installation and maintenance, urban forestry, and landscaping. B.E.S.T. takes qualifying students through 12 weeks of intensive training.
“Placement is an essential part of our program,” says Craytor. “It ensures our folks; folks who face many barriers to employment, increase their chances of unemployment. Through our job training program, we not only train our participants, but we are able to serve as job counselors to ensure the greatest rate of success.”
“Since the organization was founded, many things have improved, and yet there are many that still need work. For example, we have seen a growth in our urban forest, new waterfront parks, hundreds of individuals employed in green jobs, and the implementation of a greenway,” explains Craytor. “In terms of improvement, the community and local stakeholders now support using systemic methods to address the critical issues facing the community. In terms of what still needs to be addressed, we still need to create jobs that improve the well-being of the community.”
SSBx is not only helping clean up the South Bronx but educating people about the environment.” Community-based green movements have the possibility of making a difference. Community movements, when truly a collective effort on the part of the entire community, can not only lead possibly to better physical health but also better quality of life,” notes environmental expert Michanna Talley. “In a place like NYC where there are many people in a small land area, the possibility of any change can have a major effect.”
This can be difficult, especially in inner cities where residents have many other urgent concerns. Often, eco issues are not as immediately important. “In order to get a community concerned about environmental issues it is important to illustrate how changes will directly affect them. Many times people want to see the change themselves instead of hearing that the change has occurred,” says Talley. “Also, it would be important to show people who have other pertinent life issues what changes they can make that will not require a lot out of them (money, time, etc.), and simply add to their current burdens.”
Because of its efforts, SSBx has been receiving funding from major corporations, such as the Mitsubishi International Corp, which contributed $150,000 in 2006. In 2007, SSBx launched the for-profit SmartRoofs, LLC green roof installation business.
SSBx´s various outlets are a plus, says Talley. “The Sustainable South Bronx program has several facets. Although it is focusing on environmental issues, there are several other positives such as job training and a youth program,” says Talley. “Even for those residents who are unconcerned about environmental issues, there are still several other positive aspects of this program through which they may benefit.”
According to Craytor, it has not been a struggle to get the community involved. “Our community is sick – they know and understand the connection of their community and the poor health quality, and poor quality of their environment. The issue is really how do we connect with our community to spur everyone into action,” she says. “How do we fight for and support those initiatives that will create the solutions to the problems that affect their well-being? We are able to bridge that connection through our programs. Through these interactions, our community begins to understand the complexity and the solutions that are needed to address the complexity of the urban environment.”