The Bronx, NY exists as a clash between many extremes; it’s the only part of New York City that is almost entirely on the North American mainland, but also on a peninsula and partially surrounded by water; it has some of the poorest and the richest residents of NYC; it’s in the 3rd most densely populated county in the U.S., but a quarter of its land is given over to parks; it has the most passionate and experienced community activists/advocates, but they are still living with the highest asthma rates for children in the country (1 out of 5).
In the in-between spaces, where community and commitment make a difference, rests South Bronx Unite. Nearly 10 years ago, they came together to unite neighborhood residents, community organizations, academic institutions, and allies to improve and protect the social, environmental, and economic future of Mott Haven and Port Morris, which have, at times, the highest rates of air pollution in the country. They understood the community was tired of the same problems recurring over and over and of not feeling heard and that it was time to act.
A primary area of focus since the beginning of the organization has been fighting the sources of air pollution, which is ravaging the health of their community. As noted by The Guardian in 2019, the residents “need asthma hospitalizations at five times the national average and at rates 21 times higher than other NYC neighborhoods.”
One source is the thousands of trucks traveling through the Bronx daily for an online grocery-delivery company, Fresh Direct, bringing noise, traffic congestion and extreme risks to the health of every individual along their path. South Bronx Unite brought those impacted together with rallies and testimonies at hearings, activating the community to call out the company, and published their findings on the noise, pollution and traffic congestion caused by these companies in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
“You cannot bring in thousands of diesel trucks into an area already known to have terrible air quality and all the health consequences the congressman mentioned without causing adverse effects. The color of your skin and your economic status should not determine the quality of the air you breathe.”– Mychal Johnson, co-founder South Bronx Unite, April 2022
South Bronx Unite comes to the table with community-built solutions, developing in 2013 the Mott Haven-Port Morris Waterfront Plan. In designing the plan, they took into account decades of community participation and the need to have access to the waterfront and to healthier green spaces, but took it a step further. They also took into account the needs of city planners and developers by creating a modular approach, where parts of the plan can be created independently if lack of funding or other obstacles arise.
“Our children don’t know there’s water surrounding us, because they can’t get to it.”– Mychal Johnson in a meeting with A2
“Mott Haven-Port Morris Waterfront Plan is a blueprint of seven interconnected waterfront projects along the Mott Haven-Port Morris coastline that have been the subject of decades of community advocacy. The seventy-five page proposal was drafted and presented to the NYS Open Space Region 2 Advisory Committee, which voted overwhelmingly in favor of recommending the entire plan for priority designation in the NYS Open Space Conservation Plan.”– 2013 Newsletter
In addition, they are continuing to advocate for using “a community land trust model as a tool to achieve self-determination and more equitable outcomes.” As they note in their 2020 annual report, “ We received recognition from the NYC Council and were featured in the inaugural Community Land Trust Report of the Bronx Borough President’s office. Our CLT was also profiled by Harper’s Magazine in We Shall Not Be Moved.”
A small, yet powerful crew makes up the team at South Bronx Unite, with clear vision and actions informed by equity, inclusion and the hard work that goes into creating a collective voice and purpose.
“We envision a South Bronx where everyone is thriving because we have equitable access to clean air, nutritious food, truly affordable and quality housing, good health care, resources to advance our contributions to arts and culture, community centers, open green spaces, good schools with adequate resources, jobs with livable wages, a transformative justice approach to public safety, and participatory decision-making for public policies and community development.”– South Bronx Unite’s Vision
Written by Michele Gielis
For more information:
Air Pollution, Flooding, Heat, Hurricanes
Art Activism, Community Farm/Gardens, Community Land Trusts/Land Conservation, Community Science, Fighting Industrial Contamination, Halting Bad Development, Policy Reform
501c3 Tax Deductible