Majora Carter: The Connections between Environmentalism, Race, and Class

On April 21, for Earth Week, Majora Carter gave a talk.  This was another one of those extremely awesome ones.  It was mostly about Carter’s experiences, but she has done some very cool things.  If you haven’t heard her speak before, check out a short video where she talks about some of her experiences at http://www.ted.com/talks/majora_carter_s_tale_of_urban_renewal.html.  She’s an amazing speaker – if you have the opportunity, check out the video.

Her overall philosophy is that development is good, but it must operate under a triple bottom line (people, planet, profit) and bring the community to the table.  The current decisions are made in a top-down way that ignores the interests of the people affected by those decisions and the environment.  Carter wants to see more grassroots organizations.

The thing that’s so cool about Carter is that she works with the intersections between environmentalism, race, and class.  She grew up in the Bronx, and she saw that people of color overwhelmingly lived in poor areas that have no parks or greenery and many sewage and waste treatment plants, and she does work to fix that.  For instance, few people hang out outside because there is no greenery.  Thus, there is crime because there are fewer witnesses.  Adding some plants has encouraged people to stay outside and has decreased crime.  The process of actually adding plants also created jobs. 

She also started one of the country’s first Green Roof companies.  They retain 75-90% of the stormwater that comes down on them – important because the Bronx has most of the city’s sewage treatment plants, and the sewage systems are inefficient in that they combine stormwater and sewage.  Thus, keeping stormwater out of the sewers increases energy efficiency and decreases the impact of sewage treatment on the community.  In addition, it combats the urban heat effect, creates jobs, creates food, is good insulation, cleans the air, and makes the roof last ten times longer.

Less than 25% of the South Bronx’s residents own cars, but most corporations only build parking spaces, not pedestrian or bike ways, so Carter built a greenway.  More stormwater management.  More jobs.  More ways for people to get around the town.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009