New York City produces around 50,000 tons of waste every day. If you need a mental picture, imagine 25,000 SUV’s. Now imagine all of them in a single heap in the South Bronx. Such is the reality of waste disposal in the Big Apple. Nearly all of the trash from the five boroughs ends up in one place, and it’s no surprise that the people living there are low-income people of color. Neighborhoods like this are the evidence that social injustice and environmental degradation are inextricably tied.

In a number of cities around the country, from the South Bronx in New York, to the Bayview in San Francisco, residents of these neighborhoods are organizing against perpetual dumping in their communities, which carries grave health risks, not to mention the unattractive appearance and odors emanating from garbage and sewer plants. Sustainable South Bronx is one such organization. Founded by Majora Carter in 2001, the group has implemented a number of sustainable community development projects with the mission of advancing “the environmental, social and economic rebirth of the South Bronx.”

Sustainable South Bronx is juggling many simultaneous projects, including a plan for a bicycle/pedestrian greenway, the conversion of a concrete plant into a public park, and a mixed-use waterfront development. They are also collaborating with several departments at Columbia, the Cool City Project, and HM White Site Architects to create the South Bronx New Roof Demonstration Project. The project “combines green building technology and public health research to demonstrate the tangible health and economic benefits of green and cool roofs, and will be a working, productive…laboratory for urban agriculture, using permanent plantings alongside experiments in rooftop crops and a distinctive cool roof design.”

Founder Majora Carter has just been named a MacArthur Fellow, honoring the work she has done and granting a five-year stipend for the advancement of her organization. It’s exciting to see this kind of synthesis of environmental justice, community health research, and green building attain recognition on a national level. This work is essential for the true revitalization of urban neighborhoods.