At the second day of the Resilient Cities conference, I had the pleasure of hearing and talking with Majora Carter, the founder of Sustainable South Bronx. SSBx is an organization dedicated to innovative Environmental Justice solutions. Although the term Environmental Justice is not one we use much in Canada, the concept – righting of inequitable environmental burdens borne by groups such as racial minorities, women, or residents of economically disadvantaged areas – is a core element of building a conservation economy. And the key strategies SSBx uses are also core to Ecotrust Canada’s philosophy: empowering people in place to make changes in their communities, informed by community needs, and training people for jobs that give them a personal and financial stake in the management of their local environment.

The successes of Sustainable South Bronx are certainly inspirational for our work:

  • Running the Bronx Environmental Stewardship Training (BEST) program which provides life skills and vocational training while also repairing and reversing decades of environmental degradation
  • Launching a for-profit group, SmartRoofs, out of their experience building a green roof above their own offices.
  • Partnering with MIT to bring a FabLab (Fabrication Laboratory) to the South Bronx to turn waste materials into new furniture.

As a neighbourhood of the most populous city in the United States, the South Bronx may not seem to have much in common with BC’s remote coastal rainforest communities. But the poverty and unemployment levels, with their accompanying social problems, are quite familiar, as is the economic neglect or abuse of these communities by the larger economies around them. Emphasizing Majora’s view that the tools used to help South Bronx are applicable elsewhere, she has started a consulting company whose clients include central Detroit and rural North Carolina.

The Resilient Cities conference is presented by SmartGrowth BC in association with Gaining Ground and in collaboration with the Canadian Society for Ecological Economics. It was held in Vancouver October 20-22, 2009.

– Lorin Gaertner, GIS Analyst