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Greening the City

How a group of environmental activists in the Bronx is changing the color of green.

This video marks the first of a TNR TV series that will take an issues approach to contemporary environmentalism. This episode deals with matters of class and race in the green movement, with particular focus on the South Bronx--incorporating the precepts of civil rights and social justice into a vision of a greener America.

I have been interested in this topic since attending the PowerShift student environmental conference held at the University of Maryland this October, where I met several black and Latino high school students that had traveled from the Bronx at the behest of environmental activist Majora Carter and her allies. When the entire conference gathered for a keynote speech, one Bronx native described her group as "the chocolate chip in the vanilla ice cream"--and it was not hard to see why. These young people knew--perhaps more intimately than the students lounging on the lush campus green--what environmental degradation looks like. The "environmentalists" at the conference spoke for them, but looked nothing like them. 

New initiatives in the environmental movement are trying to change that perception. I made three visits to the South Bronx in the following months, visiting schools and community centers, walking the industrial sites beneath and beyond the Bruckner Expressway, and studying the land-use plans for the proposed Bronx jail. What I learned was eye-opening. Notwithstanding all of the obstacles to change--political, cultural, and physical--the Bronx’s new environmental activists are smart, capable, and resilient. Sustainable South Bronx, along with other local groups, has made immense strides toward community awareness and real environmental change.

Primarily, this video is about how a new wave of environmentalism--especially among younger people--is tearing down former cultural barriers in pursuit of stronger families, good jobs, and a cleaner planet. (See this piece for more on green bedfellows.) Increasingly, environmentalists and social justice advocates have found themselves natural partners who can teach one another and enhance mutual understanding of how to approach energy action and environmental progress.

Click here to see Olopade’s conversations with environmental activist Kate Gordon and policy specialist Bracken Hendricks as they discuss whether “green jobs” can actually help solve the current economic crisis.