A Tree Grows in the Bronx

Majora Carter is cleaning up the borough.

Majora Carter is cleaning up the borough.

Sustainability is all too often the privilege of the already privileged: earth-friendly office towers and hybrid cars don't come cheap. By that measure, the South Bronx, one of the poorest and most polluted urban areas in the U.S., should be one of the last to embrace environmental stewardship. Thanks to Majora Carter, it might be one of the first.Carter, 39, is the founder and executive director of Sustainable South Bronx, a community organization devoted to urban renewal and environmental justice. "There is absolutely a perception on some level," says Carter, "that 'It's already so bad in the South Bronx, are they really going to notice if it gets worse?'" For decades, the area has served as a place to quarantine New York City's power plants, scrap-metal yards, and sewage-treatment centers.
They're the kind of projects that capture the city's imagination.
Carter hopes to replace some of these polluters with environmentally friendly businesses that employ South Bronx residents. SSB runs a three-month training program to prepare community members for jobs in the local environmental economy, like river management or brownfield restoration-coaxing back a healthy ecosystem in areas that have suffered contamination. The organization also works to persuade property owners to install green roofs-carpets of shrubs, crops, and wildflowers-in place of conventional tar roofs. Green roofs last longer, conserve energy, and purify the air-they also provide "green-collar" jobs for local residents. "These are not only meaningful things that have an impact on the quality of life of people who live here," says Carter, "but they're the kind of projects that capture the city's imagination about what the city can be."Her most ambitious project is to convince city authorities to build a state-of-the-art recycling complex in a location where, in 2012, a new power plant is planned. It's all part of her mission to make the South Bronx the inspiration for a new wave of sustainability. "Until everybody can afford a green roof, we're not going to rest," says Carter. "If we're not doing it here, as far as I'm concerned, we're completely short-shrifting our responsibility as a nation."GENIUS Majora Carter won a MacArthur "genius grant" in 2005.LEARN MORE
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