@MajoraCarter #AASHE2011 keynote

[notes from Majora Carter’s keynote talk at AASHE 2011 10/9/2011 – not a direct transcription, but the interesting bits for me]

Majora wasn’t expecting to be here, as she is a last minute replacement for the late Wangari Maathi. MC is spiritual – believes our ancestors are to guide us – they can inspire us to be better. [she’s very real and authentic – her talk doesn’t feel rehearsed]

“…sustainability will be barely even a word anymore because people just know how to live..” [thanks @Lhurleyes]

South Bronx used to be known as ‘Little Pittsburgh’ because of all the steel mills and heavy industry. After the steel mills closed the environmental impacts were institutionalized through the zoning for industry and Hunts Point became home to garbage transfer stations and other noxious industries.

[Shows ‘We live hear. We’re experts too!’ photo.]

Public health impacts of land use – asthma, diabetes, getting hit by a truck.

Columbia University study established definitive link between exposure to fossil fuel emissions to learning disabilities – so incarceration crisis is caused by pollution.

‘How do we see ourselves?’

Organized to protest solid waste facility catalyst to mobilize community. Show what they want to fight for. Story about dog dragging her to the water  and applied for grant for Bronx river restoration. Seeing the result was transformative how community could view itself. Seed grant became $3m grant from the city [applause line – same as at TED talk].

[Shows wedding photo] just celebrated 5th anniversary got married on the Bronx river at her park.

Got Federal funds to reduce transportation pollution via development of the South Bronx Greenway w/stormwater management and pedestrian infrx. $50m funding including $25m from ARRA Stimulus – under construction right now!

B.E.S.T. Bronx Environmental Stewardship Training – first encountered folks not fully accepting link between environment and economic opportunity.  Overcame generational barriers to employment, multi-generation welfare, ex-convicts, teenage moms, school dropouts. Empower them with personal fulfillment.

Green is more then granola Birkenstock hippies – MC started own businesses installing greenroofs [benefits of greenroofs – yadda yadda – if you are reading Infrascape Design you already know all this] – jobs that can’t be outsourced. Photo of roof of Majora’s house 2005. Her greenroof saved her from Hurricane Irene flooding. Also has greenroof on her HQ. [photo of hank the hawk]

Opportunity for jobs and reduces expensed for water treatment plants – [photo montage of google earth of her roof covering neighborhoods]

Confession – want’s smaller government (like tea party) – by creating jobs for the most expensive citizens (welfare, drug abusers, convicts).

Therapeutic benefits of green – reducing stress and improving health – that’s why it is so important to build green infrx. Allows communities to pickup by bootstraps aka ‘hometown security’.

Case studies

Andy Lipkis of TreePeople. LA county Open Space District and saved school district $$$$ by planting trees in school yards instead of new air conditioning.

Brenda Palms-Barber – Sweet Beginnings – beeline line of products – bee keeping and value added skills  – less then 4% recidivism vs national 65%

Judy Bonds (passed 2011 of lung cancer) – Coal River Mountain Watch – those mountains never grow back for a few dozen jobs and a few years of coal. Wind power on mountain ridges – homegirl to hillbilly. Created business plan that will be her legacy.

It’s all about land-use. So how does real estate development inspire and excite folks about future for inclusion. Spofford Juvenile Detention facility (her dad was janitor) – so many kids were being broken by the place.  Finally closed this year. 4-acres transforming into mixed-use/mixed-income development. Two kinds of development in poor places – either projects that assume gentrification or assume status quo.  What are the unintended consequences of integration? Had economically diverse communities during segregation – after just the poor. When the buildings started burning – folks with any economic possibilities left. Left isolated and stagnant communities. [Diagrams of neighborhood connections and commercial core.] Spofford is hinge for Hunts Point.

Important to have mix of incomes to be aspiration for poor folks to know that there is other possibilities.  Manufacturing and education uses – with urban farming and quality urban space. Quality urban space is great democratizer of the city. Importance to have folks spend own money in neighborhoods. Need opportunities to spend money locally. Site has been boogeyman for 60 years – phased redevelopment including farmers market and high-tech fab lab. Reuse of wood palettes into chairs. Other community connections and amenities to activate place.

Don’t want oasis – spread the development around. Wants to take concept nation wide.

[MLK quote on impatience]. Land use has critical ripple effect on everything. Important to think about land use. Mention of impact of fracking on farmers.

Shout out to Pittsburgh – the first city to ban hydro fracking in the US. Tuesday protest over tar sands and fracking where Obama is speaking. ‘Our future is pretty gosh darn bleak’. Green infrastructure is not a cost but a benefit to the nation. Look to communities for inspiration.

Constructive healing of town/gown divide by sustainability engagement. In future when sustainability is just a word because folks just know how to live.

Questions and Answers

Question – what are most effective financial funding tools?

A – Lots of folks looking at private public partnerships and organizations see opportunity for social equity return.

Q – How do you avoid displacing long time residents with new development?

A- you get them good jobs and education so they can afford to stay. Doesn’t want to perpetuate poverty.

Q- End of nature and change?

A – When folks have been shut out are included. All about empowering folks so they become engaged with the rest of their lives.  Folks operate in self interests

Q – Problems with waste management – question about clean diesel fleet requirements for facilities?

A – there are companies that see the value of exceeding standards and anticipate standards  [EXAMPLE SEND TO MAJORA– PORTS of LONG BEACH & LOS ANGELES]. Some business folks see the business opportunity and cost/benefits.

Q – University town with 80% of kids in community on federal school lunch – what about wellbeing and models for improving quality of life and green issues?

A- has answers – not rocket science, but takes studies on cost of engagement.

Contact info


MC’s Flickr Account: www.flickr.com/photos/majoracartergroup/

Twitter @MajoraCarter


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