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PEOPLE:
Greening the Ghetto

03/2010

Interview by Jane Kolleeny

Majora Carter advocates for public health and environmental equality as one of the nation’s pioneers in successful green-collar job training and placement. She pursues economically sustainable projects informed by community needs, and has received numerous awards and honors for her efforts. She continues her work as president of her own consulting firm, advising communities around the world about green-collar economic potential, especially in buildings and infrastructure.

Majora Carter is an environmental activist working to alleviate poverty while remediating the environment.
Photos © James Burling Chase
Majora Carter is an environmental activist working to alleviate poverty while remediating the environment.
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GreenSource: What was the goal in starting your organization, Sustainable South Bronx (SSBx)?

Majora Carter: I wanted to address the two biggest problems I saw in my community: environmental inequality and unemployment. By 2008, SSBx had achieved an excellent track record. We built New York City’s first Cool and Green Roof Demonstration Project in 2005, spearheaded a coalition, brought in a $1.25-million federal transportation planning grant, built the first waterfront park on our peninsula community in over 60 years, and connected unemployed people with good paying [green] jobs.

GS: What was your inspiration?

MC: I began volunteering at a local cultural organization [in South Bronx], and later took a job there. I slowly realized that environmentally borne public-health vectors were regulated into concentrations in areas like the South Bronx. At that point, I knew I needed to make projects on the ground that people could relate to, and that they had to include jobs. No such organization existed, so I founded my own.

GS: What is the work of your green-economic consulting firm, the Majora Carter Group?

MC: This is a relatively new company, but we already have some great work under way. The Northeastern North Carolina region has hired us through the Elizabeth City State University to develop a 21-county green-economic development plan that incorporates the anticipated sea-level rise to come and addresses the drainage problems the area suffers from presently. We have another project with the Make It Right foundation in New Orleans, where we envision a green jobs academy that will train people to not only redesign urban water management plans, but also begin to restore millions of acres of wetlands.

GS: What message would you like to convey to our readers?

MC: The most important thing to remember is that the greenest project is to retrofit an existing structure. Every time you tear down an old building, you are adding to waste streams, which almost always flow through poor communities where environmental burdens are already severe. Any time we clear virgin land for a new building or a parking lot, we are removing a valuable source of environmental services. Sometimes that is what we have to do, but often it is a choice we make out of ignorance regarding the impacts of our actions.

GS: What is the most important environmental challenge facing our country?

MC: Inequality. If we had built next to rich communities as quickly as we have in poor communities, we would have had a clean and green economy decades ago.

Interview condensed and edited by Alanna Malone.

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This article appeared in the March 2010 print issue of GreenSource Magazine.

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