What was once America’s most famous slum is now at the forefront of a national movement tackling climate change with environmental justice, one street at a time. What’s good for the planet is also good for the ’hood. The South Bronx, immortalized in films with its vast swath of torched tenements, rubble-strewn lots, gangbangers and hip-hop kids, looks quite different now than it did in 1977, when President Jimmy Carter walked through its urban ruin.
Over the years, motivated residents who saw possibility where others found wreckage cleaned out abandoned lots and created green spaces. Global warming wasn’t on their minds. They yearned to create peace amid chaos and nurture themselves and their neighbors, one plot at a time. Slowly, public space was transformed.
More than 100 community gardens manned by crews of volunteers are thriving in the most unlikely places – tucked in near train tracks or sandwiched between housing projects. Here, urban farmers grow everything from eggplant to beans, cantaloupes and broccoli. They bring with them generations of knowledge as migrants and immigrants. Urban farmers from Puerto Rico share tips with those from Ghana. Father and son tend vegetables once grown by their ancestors in the Jim Crow south.
Local schools are teaming up with gardeners to teach kids basic nutrition and agriculture. One child on a garden tour thought the apples scattered under the trees had been bought at the supermarket – he didn’t realize apples grew on trees. In a borough with high rates of diabetes and obesity, teaching kids how to eat, and persuading them to choose fresh fruits and vegetables over fast food, is a health necessity.
The movement has reached a pivotal point. Right now, gardeners eat what they grow, or give it away to churches and shelters, or sell it at neighborhood farmers’ markets. The vision is for the gardens to become part of a more systemized network of urban growers farming in gardens and on rooftops that can supply local schools, hospitals, restaurants and residents. The benefits would be enormous. Local food requires less transportation and so less CO2 emissions. Those without jobs – the South Bronx is one of the poorest places in America — could work in farms. Organically produced fruits, vegetables and eggs (some gardens have hens) are healthier then the pesticide laced, processed food served up by corporate agribusiness.
Community gardening is just one component of a bigger greening strategy that must tackle the historical reality of the Bronx having been built as a place to serve cars rather than people. In the mid-20th Century, Robert Moses, the powerful New York City planner demolished homes, businesses and entire neighborhoods to build a vast network of highways, all leading out to the newly constructed suburbs. Under Moses the South Bronx became a place you drove through but didn’t stop. No highway has been more detrimental to Bronx residents than the Cross Bronx Expressway which consistently rates as the most congested roadway in the U.S. Neighborhoods that border the highway suffer from fumes, noise, lack of light and permanent poverty. Environmentalists have proposed decommissioning a piece of the Moses highway system and turning it into a green space.
South Bronx, USA
This story is part of Climate Change by NOOR.