Greening the ghetto | Majora Carter


If you’re here today — and I’m very happy that you are — you’ve all heard about
how sustainable development will save us from ourselves. However, when we’re not at TED,
we are often told that a real sustainability policy agenda
is just not feasible, especially in large urban areas
like New York City. And that’s because most people
with decision-making powers, in both the public and the private sector, really don’t feel
as though they’re in danger. The reason why I’m here today,
in part, is because of a dog — an abandoned puppy I found
back in the rain, back in 1998. She turned out to be
a much bigger dog than I’d anticipated. When she came into my life, we were
fighting against a huge waste facility planned for the East River waterfront despite the fact that
our small part of New York City already handled more than 40 percent
of the entire city’s commercial waste: a sewage treatment pelletizing plant,
a sewage sludge plant, four power plants, the world’s largest
food-distribution center, as well as other industries that bring
more than 60,000 diesel truck trips to the area each week. The area also has one of the lowest ratios
of parks to people in the city. So when I was contacted
by the Parks Department about a $10,000 seed-grant initiative
to help develop waterfront projects, I thought they were really
well-meaning, but a bit naive. I’d lived in this area all my life,
and you could not get to the river, because of all the lovely facilities
that I mentioned earlier. Then, while jogging
with my dog one morning, she pulled me into what I thought
was just another illegal dump. There were weeds and piles of garbage
and other stuff that I won’t mention here, but she kept dragging me, and lo and behold, at the end
of that lot was the river. I knew that this forgotten
little street-end, abandoned like the dog that brought
me there, was worth saving. And I knew it would grow
to become the proud beginnings of the community-led revitalization
of the new South Bronx. And just like my new dog, it was an idea
that got bigger than I’d imagined. We garnered much support along the way, and the Hunts Point Riverside Park
became the first waterfront park that the South Bronx had had
in more than 60 years. We leveraged that $10,000 seed grant
more than 300 times, into a $3 million park. And in the fall, I’m going to exchange
marriage vows with my beloved. (Audience whistles) Thank you very much. (Applause) That’s him pressing my buttons
back there, which he does all the time. (Laughter) (Applause) But those of us living
in environmental justice communities are the canary in the coal mine. We feel the problems right now,
and have for some time. Environmental justice, for those of you
who may not be familiar with the term, goes something like this: no community should be saddled
with more environmental burdens and less environmental benefits
than any other. Unfortunately, race and class
are extremely reliable indicators as to where one might find the good stuff,
like parks and trees, and where one might find the bad stuff,
like power plants and waste facilities. As a black person in America,
I am twice as likely as a white person to live in an area where air pollution
poses the greatest risk to my health. I am five times more likely
to live within walking distance of a power plant or chemical facility, which I do. These land-use decisions
created the hostile conditions that lead to problems like obesity,
diabetes and asthma. Why would someone leave their home to go
for a brisk walk in a toxic neighborhood? Our 27 percent obesity rate
is high even for this country, and diabetes comes with it. One out of four South Bronx
children has asthma. Our asthma hospitalization rate is seven times higher
than the national average. These impacts are coming everyone’s way. And we all pay dearly
for solid waste costs, health problems associated
with pollution and more odiously, the cost of imprisoning
our young black and Latino men, who possess untold amounts
of untapped potential. Fifty percent of our residents
live at or below the poverty line; 25 percent of us are unemployed. Low-income citizens often use
emergency-room visits as primary care. This comes at a high cost to taxpayers
and produces no proportional benefits. Poor people are not only still poor,
they are still unhealthy. Fortunately, there are many people
like me who are striving for solutions that won’t compromise the lives of low-income communities of color
in the short term, and won’t destroy us all in the long term. None of us want that,
and we all have that in common. So what else do we have in common? Well, first of all,
we’re all incredibly good-looking. (Laughter) Graduated high school, college,
post-graduate degrees, traveled to interesting places,
didn’t have kids in your early teens, financially stable, never been imprisoned. OK. Good. (Laughter) But, besides being a black woman, I am different from most of you
in some other ways. I watched nearly half of the buildings
in my neighborhood burn down. My big brother Lenny fought in Vietnam, only to be gunned down
a few blocks from our home. Jesus. I grew up with a crack house
across the street. Yeah, I’m a poor black child
from the ghetto. These things make me different from you. But the things we have in common set me apart from most
of the people in my community, and I am in between these two worlds with enough of my heart
to fight for justice in the other. So how did things get so different for us? In the late ’40s, my dad —
a Pullman porter, son of a slave — bought a house in the Hunts Point
section of the South Bronx, and a few years later, he married my mom. At the time, the community was a mostly
white, working-class neighborhood. My dad was not alone. And as others like him pursued
their own version of the American dream, white flight became common
in the South Bronx and in many cities around the country. Red-lining was used by banks,
wherein certain sections of the city, including ours, were deemed
off-limits to any sort of investment. Many landlords believed it was more
profitable to torch their buildings and collect insurance money rather
than to sell under those conditions — dead or injured former tenants
notwithstanding. Hunts Point was formerly
a walk-to-work community, but now residents had neither
work nor home to walk to. A national highway construction boom
was added to our problems. In New York State, Robert Moses spearheaded
an aggressive highway-expansion campaign. One of its primary goals was
to make it easier for residents of wealthy communities
in Westchester County to go to Manhattan. The South Bronx, which lies in between,
did not stand a chance. Residents were often given
less than a month’s notice before their buildings were razed. 600,000 people were displaced. The common perception was that only pimps and pushers
and prostitutes were from the South Bronx. And if you are told
from your earliest days that nothing good is going to come
from your community, that it’s bad and ugly, how could it not reflect on you? So now, my family’s property
was worthless, save for that it was our home,
and all we had. And luckily for me, that home
and the love inside of it, along with help from teachers, mentors
and friends along the way, was enough. Now, why is this story important? Because from a planning perspective, economic degradation
begets environmental degradation, which begets social degradation. The disinvestment that began
in the 1960s set the stage for all the environmental
injustices that were to come. Antiquated zoning and land-use
regulations are still used to this day to continue putting polluting
facilities in my neighborhood. Are these factors taken into consideration
when land-use policy is decided? What costs are associated
with these decisions? And who pays? Who profits? Does anything justify
what the local community goes through? This was “planning” — in quotes — that did not have
our best interests in mind. Once we realized that, we decided
it was time to do our own planning. That small park I told you about earlier was the first stage of building
a Greenway movement in the South Bronx. I wrote a one-and-a-quarter-million
dollar federal transportation grant to design the plan
for a waterfront esplanade with dedicated on-street bike paths. Physical improvements help inform
public policy regarding traffic safety, the placement of the waste
and other facilities, which, if done properly, don’t compromise
a community’s quality of life. They provide opportunities
to be more physically active, as well as local economic development. Think bike shops, juice stands. We secured 20 million dollars
to build first-phase projects. This is Lafayette Avenue — and that’s redesigned
by Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects. And once this path is constructed,
it’ll connect the South Bronx with more than 400 acres
of Randall’s Island Park. Right now we’re separated by about 25 feet
of water, but this link will change that. As we nurture the natural environment,
its abundance will give us back even more. We run a project called the Bronx
[Environmental] Stewardship Training, which provides job training in the fields
of ecological restoration, so that folks from our community
have the skills to compete for these well-paying jobs. Little by little, we’re seeding
the area with green-collar jobs — and with people that have both
a financial and personal stake in their environment. The Sheridan Expressway
is an underutilized relic of the Robert Moses era, built with no regard for the neighborhoods
that were divided by it. Even during rush hour,
it goes virtually unused. The community created
an alternative transportation plan that allows for the removal
of the highway. We have the opportunity now to bring
together all the stakeholders to re-envision how this 28 acres
can be better utilized for parkland, affordable housing
and local economic development. We also built New York City’s first green
and cool roof demonstration project on top of our offices. Cool roofs are highly-reflective
surfaces that don’t absorb solar heat, and pass it on to
the building or atmosphere. Green roofs are soil and living plants. Both can be used instead
of petroleum-based roofing materials that absorb heat, contribute
to urban “heat island” effect and degrade under the sun, which we in turn breathe. Green roofs also retain
up to 75 percent of rainfall, so they reduce a city’s need to fund
costly end-of-pipe solutions — which, incidentally, are often located in environmental justice
communities like mine. And they provide habitats
for our little friends! [Butterfly] (Laughter) So cool! Anyway, the demonstration
project is a springboard for our own green roof
installation business, bringing jobs and sustainable
economic activity to the South Bronx. [Green is the new black …] (Laughter) (Applause) I like that, too. Anyway, I know Chris told us
not to do pitches up here, but since I have all of your attention: We need investors. End of pitch. It’s better to ask
for forgiveness than permission. Anyway — (Laughter) (Applause) OK. Katrina. Prior to Katrina, the South Bronx
and New Orleans’ Ninth Ward had a lot in common. Both were largely populated
by poor people of color, both hotbeds of cultural innovation:
think hip-hop and jazz. Both are waterfront communities
that host both industries and residents in close proximity of one another. In the post-Katrina era,
we have still more in common. We’re at best ignored,
and maligned and abused, at worst, by negligent regulatory agencies,
pernicious zoning and lax governmental accountability. Neither the destruction of the Ninth Ward
nor the South Bronx was inevitable. But we have emerged with valuable lessons about how to dig ourselves out. We are more than simply
national symbols of urban blight or problems to be solved
by empty campaign promises of presidents come and gone. Now will we let the Gulf Coast
languish for a decade or two, like the South Bronx did? Or will we take proactive steps and learn from the homegrown resource
of grassroots activists that have been born of desperation
in communities like mine? Now listen, I do not expect individuals, corporations or government
to make the world a better place because it is right or moral. This presentation today only represents
some of what I’ve been through. Like a tiny little bit. You’ve no clue. But I’ll tell you later,
if you want to know. (Laughter) But — I know it’s the bottom line,
or one’s perception of it, that motivates people in the end. I’m interested in what I like to call
the “triple bottom line” that sustainable development can produce. Developments that have the potential
to create positive returns for all concerned:
the developers, government and the community
where these projects go up. At present, that’s not happening
in New York City. And we are operating with a comprehensive
urban-planning deficit. A parade of government subsidies is going to propose big-box and stadium
developments in the South Bronx, but there is scant coordination
between city agencies on how to deal with the cumulative effects
of increased traffic, pollution, solid waste and the impacts on open space. And their approaches to local economic
and job development are so lame it’s not even funny. Because on top of that, the world’s richest sports team
is replacing the House That Ruth Built by destroying two
well-loved community parks. Now, we’ll have even less
than that stat I told you about earlier. And although less than 25 percent
of South Bronx residents own cars, these projects include
thousands of new parking spaces, yet zip in terms of mass public transit. Now, what’s missing from the larger debate is a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis between not fixing an unhealthy,
environmentally-challenged community, versus incorporating structural,
sustainable changes. My agency is working closely
with Columbia University and others to shine a light on these issues. Now let’s get this straight:
I am not anti-development. Ours is a city, not a wilderness preserve. And I’ve embraced my inner capitalist. And, but I don’t have — (Laughter) You probably all have,
and if you haven’t, you need to. (Laughter) So I don’t have a problem
with developers making money. There’s enough precedent out there
to show that a sustainable, community-friendly development
can still make a fortune. Fellow TEDsters Bill McDonough
and Amory Lovins — both heroes of mine by the way —
have shown that you can actually do that. I do have a problem
with developments that hyper-exploit politically vulnerable
communities for profit. That it continues is a shame upon us all, because we are all responsible
for the future that we create. But one of the things I do
to remind myself of greater possibilities, is to learn from visionaries
in other cities. This is my version of globalization. Let’s take Bogota. Poor, Latino, surrounded by
runaway gun violence and drug trafficking; a reputation not unlike
that of the South Bronx. However, this city was blessed
in the late 1990s with a highly-influential
mayor named Enrique Peñalosa. He looked at the demographics. Few Bogotanos own cars, yet a huge portion of the city’s resources
was dedicated to serving them. If you’re a mayor, you can
do something about that. His administration narrowed key municipal
thoroughfares from five lanes to three, outlawed parking on those streets, expanded pedestrian walkways
and bike lanes, created public plazas, created one of the most efficient
bus mass-transit systems in the entire world. For his brilliant efforts,
he was nearly impeached. But as people began to see
that they were being put first on issues reflecting
their day-to-day lives, incredible things happened. People stopped littering. Crime rates dropped, because the streets
were alive with people. His administration attacked several
typical urban problems at one time, and on a third-world budget, at that. We have no excuse
in this country, I’m sorry. But the bottom line is:
their people-first agenda was not meant to penalize
those who could actually afford cars, but rather, to provide opportunities
for all Bogotanos to participate in the city’s resurgence. That development should not come at the expense of the majority
of the population is still considered
a radical idea here in the U.S. But Bogota’s example
has the power to change that. You, however, are blessed
with the gift of influence. That’s why you’re here and why you
value the information we exchange. Use your influence in support of comprehensive,
sustainable change everywhere. Don’t just talk about it at TED. This is a nationwide policy agenda
I’m trying to build, and as you all know,
politics are personal. Help me make green the new black. Help me make sustainability sexy. Make it a part of your dinner
and cocktail conversations. Help me fight for environmental
and economic justice. Support investments
with a triple-bottom-line return. Help me democratize sustainability
by bringing everyone to the table, and insisting that comprehensive
planning can be addressed everywhere. Oh good, glad I have a little more time! Listen — when I spoke to Mr. Gore
the other day after breakfast, I asked him how environmental justice
activists were going to be included in his new marketing strategy. His response was a grant program. I don’t think he understood
that I wasn’t asking for funding. I was making him an offer. (Applause) What troubled me was that this
top-down approach is still around. Now, don’t get me wrong, we need money. (Laughter) But grassroots groups
are needed at the table during the decision-making process. Of the 90 percent of the energy
that Mr. Gore reminded us that we waste every day, don’t add wasting our energy, intelligence and hard-earned experience to that count. (Applause) I have come from so far
to meet you like this. Please don’t waste me. By working together, we can become one of those small,
rapidly-growing groups of individuals who actually have the audacity and courage to believe that we actually
can change the world. We might have come to this conference from very, very different
stations in life, but believe me, we all share
one incredibly powerful thing. We have nothing to lose
and everything to gain. Ciao, bellos! (Applause)

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77 thoughts on “Greening the ghetto | Majora Carter”

  1. scatman44 says:

    Man, this woman may very well be the new Jane Jacobs! That's right, I said it!

  2. Dj Andreij says:


  3. bg24955 says:

    risk management vs urban planning.

  4. scatman44 says:

    Please elaborate on the "6 groups working and winning these issues in the Bronx". We would love to know who they are.

  5. Rickey Bowers says:

    Dividing peoples with the same goals is not a way to achieve those goals. (unless giving credit is the goal)

  6. DopePoetsDotCom says:

    This chick is the bomb, a true Warrior with the good of all at heart. Y'all haters need to come over to the side of rightousness, word is bond!

  7. ghanboy says:

    She is fiiine.

  8. Robert C says:

    this politically ignorant woman blindly excercised her idea of "free speech" by carrying the tibet-in-exile-flag during her leg of the beijing olympic torch relay, which she signed a contract to not make any political statements. tibet was one of the most ruthless slave-societies in history of modern mankind. majora carter can take her black ass to work on dalai lama's coconut plantation in exile and thank her for setting the progess of mankind back another 100 years. BOYCOTT 2012 LONDON GAMES!

  9. AnimeTalk says:

    i love you , your a hero!!!
    god bless Majora Carter for standing up for Tibet

  10. kimchicrackers says:

    Izzy2320…Why wait for Majora? What have you done?

  11. radbrent says:

    I'm Brent From Reno, Nevada. Thank you Marjora For giving me inspiration to do what's best for people. You are a Hero.

  12. radbrent says:

    My favorite video. Majora is my hero

  13. PeaceZoneEmpowerment says:

    Majora is a true Black Queen Warrior for Environmental Justice. She fights for the cause with intellect, heart body and soul. She is a true Social Capitalist Warrior that understands how to leverage benefits for more benefits and how to use corporate shares to give standing and voice in the board room for the good of the community. May Peace, Power and Blessings her reward for the good she does.

  14. valambiguous says:

    She cares and she acts!!!! YAH bless her.

  15. L_LKoolKid says:

    She is my cousin too, that is the crazy thing about this. By blood we are cousins, my grandmother Susie Schafer (who just passed away 7 months ago) is the older sister of Majora's mother Tinnie Johnson Carter (who died a couple years ago). I am so proud of her. She inspires me and so many other individuals in our family.

  16. dismutased says:

    What a human! She's a walking talking inspiration and positive change machine. Six stars!

  17. Randall McGrew says:

    I grew up poor, and I don't typically tend to sympathize with the "pity the ghetto" activists. Majora is different. She's amazing. There need to be more minds like hers in influential positions.

  18. dretriskele says:

    "i was offering him an opportunity" – oh yes! we need muuuch more people like this! i try my best every single day to reach that!

  19. tamaloa says:

    She is my new hero! What incredible work she is doing in the south bronx!

  20. werecow2003 says:

    A very good and moving speech, but I wish she spoke a little more slowly. That's the downside of having an 18 minute max, I guess.

  21. Angel Rosario Jr. says:

    People need to seriously stop sipping on that Haterade. I'm sure it's quite the task to have so much to say and a limited amount of time to say it. I grew up in Spanish Harlem, right across the river from Hunt's Point in the South Bronx. Unfortunately, socioeconomic status and environmental issues are linked and environmental injustice exist. Environmental Racism exists.

  22. purplepowersquad says:

    Wow your lucky, but no offense i dont like ur name sara P. I am watching this for honework but it is a great speech

  23. fred sims says:

    She is the kind of woman I want my daughters to become.

  24. Michael Jordan says:

    14:15 wow…

  25. rochelimit's hangout says:

    aww the parts when she talks about her brother really struck me… she's amazing

  26. rochelimit's hangout says:

    Enrique Penalosa, I used him as a reference for my thesis. He's amazing, but what is he doing is one of the hardest job in the world because he have to confront mafias. Kudos to Penalosa

  27. BigBoss AndTheDoll says:

    Great video.

  28. CookingWithCarolyn says:

    If you didn't know before, you know now. Yes, beautifully said. I too am familiar with freeways being built from the suburbs to race the suburbians thru poverty stricken areas that, by the way, include a county jail that was built so swiftly and quietly in these residential areas no one could fight it before it was too late. They've just started revitalizing the parks and surrounding areas to help raise Green awareness.

  29. Alejandro Mujica says:

    She's the Saul Williams of activism. Bravo, honey. You are incredible in every way.

  30. niev0000 says:

    Long live Majora Carter!

  31. Lo A says:

    This woman is my idol. Will someone please tell me how I can contact her so that I can help somehow. I cannot believe how involved she is. All of the things she speaks about are things I fight for on a very small scale. I want to be on a higher scale. This is just amazing.

  32. Mrs. Uzochukwu says:

    @sabelmouse you be can be right now go in your community and make a diffrence!

  33. Mrs. Uzochukwu says:

    Good job my Majora we have to get involved Watts Labor Action Community a non-profit I work with does the same in Watts California an amazing complex with a musuem about Watts when it was a progressive beautful city in the 50's 60's Please come see it Now it is happening in small towns and cities in Nigeria by China they build roads and buildings and finish the enviroment

  34. Mrs. Uzochukwu says:

    @CptnTmeister Captain actually what she is saying is that they build Airports, Waste Plants, Toxic Plants in lower income neighbor hoods we are talking about big corporations against re-developing communities. Places like Inglewood next to LAX ( alot of as u say W people live)or Pfzier next to the poorest government project in St. Louis and Madame's example of NY White familes in Annastion Alabama lost the most members because of a toxic plants it effects everyone on earth !

  35. William Ellerbe says:

    Having grown up in Brooklyn NY, I appreciate what this sister has to say. As of 01/16/10, YouTube states that this video has 248 likes and 21 dislikes. As for the 21 dislikes, I'm NOT gonna "go there," except to say that the majority of 248 likes speaks volumes about the content of this presentation. Playa hate if you will, but as a person who GREW UP in the hood, it's refreshing to hear about Sustainable SOLUTIONS coming to the hood. Stuff happens when you remove parks and nature from people.

  36. amamteee says:

    @SUlaxer17 She had to talk fast because the speech had to be finish under 20 minutes.

  37. Juan321C says:

    What a beautiful lady! She shares all my ideas, and she's a doer! I need to step my game up and be more proactive. What an inspiration, and I'll do my best to contribute even more than I can imagine. Majora, keep doing your thing!

  38. A Deep Thinker says:

    @phclapp I feel where you are coming from yet I would say that everyone starts out with the best intentions. I personally stay poor as an organizer for a reason but I can understand how these talented leaders get caught up in the fray of the intellectual & financial elites.

  39. thetruthonthereal says:

    only if she understood that money stands in the way, that without money, we could accomplish a whole lot more. Really, a resource based economy would be the only way to truly unlocking human potential in regards to "going green"

  40. thetruthonthereal says:

    @skoda130, how is it an oxymoron??? At the stage your referring to, we didn't have highly advanced technology that could make the scarcity our ancestors faced a thing of ancient history. If anything, a money based society breeds artificial scarcity, its the very mechanism that leads to 30,000 death daily from hunger and preventable diseases, while the WHO recently admitted we have more than enough food (resources) to end world hunger, but yet not enough fancy pieces of paper to afford it

  41. ACLTony says:

    Powerful. I first thought that this was going to be a political speech, but this beautiful lady presented her points well thought-out and researched. I remember the Hunts Point area as a kid way back in the day. Her descriptions were not exaggerated as I still remember the river looking a sickly brownish green color. I am glad that the Bronx has had so many improvements and cleanups in the past decade.

  42. Calvin Roach says:

    Brilliant! I am a Black Man in America with only one question. Why haven't I heard of this lady?

  43. faqu529 says:


  44. David Lawson says:

    23 people show intelligence

  45. crazywaffleking says:

    Argh for reasons unknown that woman gives me a major boner

  46. fashionerdxo says:

    She's so beautiful!

  47. Paul Goree says:

    I came in touch with Majora thur an ethic's class assignment and am so glad I did. Majora you are very very AWESOME and inspirational!

  48. batmandannyb says:

    Majora, THANK YOU!

  49. batmandannyb says:


  50. batmandannyb says:

    "I was making HIM an offer" — love it! And I love how AL Gore was clapping lol.

  51. Jasmine Wills says:

    I think I love her…

  52. Anna Fisher says:

    Inspiring, go Majora Carter!

  53. 1090been says:


  54. Roman Salomoun says:

    Really cool!! And smart:)

  55. Regimeshifts says:

    why is it important that you are a black man? are you supposed to know all black people in america?

  56. Darius Morris says:

    this is a mind and purpose at its best i wish i can call her my sister lol im proud of her and don't even know her but praise GOD for you and may the lord Jesus bless you

  57. Danny J. Espeleta says:

    Hire me Majora!

  58. SKYTZOSAUROS says:

    Amazingly beautiful strong willed speech!! 🙂 Definitely inspiring <3

  59. nancy miner says:

    I think she should run as an idependant???

  60. Armani Williams says:

    Miguel loves kids.

  61. Chief Henny says:

    Armani has long arms

  62. Armani Williams says:

    How u gone copy me like dat? *kisses teeth*

  63. Manue Keith says:

    She is really beautiful. Too powerful for the regular mind to comprehend.

  64. jay lo says:

    If you are a Black person and White people applaud you, you're doing something wrong!

  65. sexytomato100 says:

    Had to check my video speed to make sure I wasn't on 1.5X speed.

  66. Jonathan Michael says:

    Thank you for posting this, TED.

  67. Ashleyaquino151 says:

    Omgg she's my neighbor

  68. Daf Owen says:

    Talking way too fast for me – I can understand but not absorb

  69. Joy McKenzie Wendt says:

    Brilliant ideas, Majora. And so true that all need to be at the table during the decision making process.

  70. Fer Plej says:

    Black racist girl!!!

  71. Azul Valeria says:

    Truly inspiring ❤️

  72. Mindful Mack says:

    Amazingg workk thanks much for the insite Ttalks!

  73. Korryn Tyndall says:

    Thought it was a little fast… still understood perfectly at 2x speed though, so people watching at regular speed should be fine. xD

  74. Adreiel Hunt says:

    I felt this ✊🏽

  75. 195 Version purpose says:


  76. Huib Wetzel says:

    This is the spirit !!

  77. Wonder William says:

    Brilliant Majora.. Totally agree.. "Grass roots people are needed at the table during the decision making process. "

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