Majora Carter: Environmentalist

The Sustainable South Bronx founder beautifies a desolate urban neighborhood and busts stuffy ideas in a new television series.

By Veronica Chambers

Robert Redford, Bette Midler, and Bill Clinton consider her a local hero. The MacArthur Foundation considers her a genius and granted her a fellowship in 2005. We consider Majora Carter a woman to watch — on the Sundance Channel, where she’s cohosting The Green. This new 13-part series focuses on such topics as sustainable cities and eco-friendly buildings and products.

Carter, 40, has firsthand experience transforming an urban environment. A lifelong resident of New York City’s South Bronx, the poorest congressional district in the U.S., Carter was walking her dog, Xena, through a trash-filled vacant lot in 2000 when she discovered a path to the Hudson River. "When everything you see is dirty and ugly, it’s hard not to have that affect you," says the former filmmaker. So she applied for and won a $10,000 seed grant from Partnerships for Parks, then raised $30 million more over six years to create the South Bronx Greenway, transforming abandoned lots into a tree-lined passage to a waterfront playground and park.

Carter’s exhilaration is mixed with a mild case of nerves. "I was standing next to President Clinton recently, and he was talking about the work I’m doing," she says. "What I feel most is the responsibility — I can’t mess up. And I’m not sure that’s always healthy. Right now, in many ways, my organization, Sustainable South Bronx, is Majora Carter. So I work hard at balancing what I do and taking care of myself. I’m reaching out into the community to develop a new crop of leaders."

Dear to her heart is the chance to smash stereotypes. "The fact that the producers of The Green chose [activist] Simran Sethi and me as hosts — both women of color and not the traditional face of environmentalism — is evidence of how much things are changing," she says. "Environmentalism isn’t only about tree huggers hanging out in pristine spots. It’s about urban areas too."

Originally published in MORE magazine, May 2007.

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