SBRWA addresses environmental injustices in the South Bronx neighborhoods along the southernmost reaches of the Bronx River watershed, which is home to over 300,000 people.
More than 90% of residents in this region are Latino or African American, and almost 50% live below the poverty line. Unemployment has reached 27% in some areas. When local youth organizers surveyed the community, they found that the top five concerns of residents were the lack of open space, poor education, lack of jobs, poor policing, and lack of affordable housing.
Within the South Bronx, four decades of neglect by city and state agencies, and the decline of the city’s manufacturing sector has left a legacy of abandoned, underdeveloped and potentially contaminated land called brownfields. Auto junk yards, waste facilities and power generation plants have proliferated – consuming land, but producing little economic benefit, compared to the environmental burdens they impose on surrounding residents.
Our communities are further threatened by air pollution, congestion, and crashed from car and truck traffic on residential streets and on the highways that crisscross and surround our neighborhoods. The Cross-Bronx, the Major Deegan, the Bruckner and the Sheridan Expressways, and the Bronx River Parkway all border or cut through our communities, where fewer than 20% of households own or use cars.
The South Bronx neighborhood of Hunts Point attracts approximately 11,000 diesel truck trips per day. The New York region’s wholesale food distribution centers are concentrated here – but so are an expanding wastewater treatment plant, a sewage sludge pelletizing plant, and more than two dozen private waste transfer stations.
The adjacent neighborhood of Port Morris also contains a disproportionate share of waste facilities, as well as four new electric power plants built by the New York Power Authority in the summer of 2000. The entire area is downwind of numerous additional power plants and the Wards Island wastewater treatment plant located along the East River.
The impacts of these burdens on local people’s health are exacerbated by a lack of open space. The Bronx River and Hunts Point neighborhoods have less than one-half acre of green space per thousand residents; this is far below the National Parks Service standard for urban areas of 7 acres /1000 people, and even below New York City’s average of 3.6 acres per thousand people.
The combination of polluting industries, major highways, and lack of opportunity for safe and healthy outdoor activity all contribute to our neighborhood’s having the second highest asthma hospitalization rate for children in New York City, seven times the national average.
Since the mid-1990s, SBRWA members have worked with parks and environmental justice advocates to reclaim the Bronx River, and to create new parkland along its banks. In 2000, Sustainable South Bronx and Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice were among the founders of the Bronx River Alliance, a public-private partnership working to build a continuous Greenway along the River’s eight-mile course through the Bronx.
Over 200 years of industrialization have polluted the river and altered its channel, and today both highways and privately owned land block access to its southern banks.
SBRWA continues to work closely with the Bronx River Alliance to promote the development of the Greenway, and to ensure that it fulfils its potential as an ecological and environmental asset in our community. SBRWA members have helped to win over $60 million in commitments of city, state, and federal funding that will enable the Bronx River Greenway to be largely completed by 2008. – ourcom –