The American urban revitalisation strategist talked about her work on the South Bronx and introduced the film she hosted.

Majora Carter gives inspiring talk on green infrastructure

Majora Carter, the American urban revitalisation strategist who presented the US film Water Blues Green Solutions gave an inspirational talk to an audience at the offices of architect Allford Hall Monaghan Morris in London yesterday.

Carter, who had been invited to London by the LI as host of this year’s awards, spoke about her experience of returning to New York’s South Bronx, where she was born, after university. ‘It is considered to be a regional sacrifice zone,’ she said, explaining that this poor neighbourhood was used for siting waste dumps and other undesirable facilities. Initially Carter became involved with arts projects but when she learnt that the city was planning to build a huge waste facility on the waterfront, ‘I knew that all the art in the world wasn’t going to save us’.

She started to explore environmental issues, having already discovered by accident that the South Bronx had a river running through it. Although it was very polluted,  she said, ‘This was something that could be used as a way for us to see ourselves in a different way.’ Drawing on research at the University of Illinois that showed that areas with trees and no other advantages had lower crime rates, greater happiness and even reduced teenage pregnancies, Carter became involved in work which eventually led to the redevelopment of the river in partnership with landscape architect Signe Nielsen. ‘If I had known this field existed,’ Majora said, ‘I would have studied it and become a landscape architect.’

The work at the South Bronx, which was as much about social as about physical regeneration, is detailed in a section of the film. Carter said, ‘There are beautiful ways to created jobs and not so beautiful ways. I prefer the beautiful ones.’

She has moved on to working in real estate in an attempt to ensure that the improvement of the neighbourhood is not accompanied by the kind of gentrification that drives out the original residents. She is also working with IT, creating an enterprise overlooking the South Bronx river that ‘provides a career ladder’.

Majora Carter’s talk followed a showing of the Philadelphia section of Water Blues Green Solutions. This showed how the city decided to tackle the problem of sewage overflow in storms not by building giant diversion tunnels but by using green measures to reduce the amount of stormwater. This ranged from the planting of rain gardens on domestic property to charging industry for the amount of water it discharged, encouraging it to recycle rainwater.  The city is planning through these measures to construct 10,000 green acres.

Sue Illman, former president of the LI, who introduced the film and Majora Carter, talked about the relevance of Philadelphia to London and the planned Thames Tideway Tunnel. ‘The film is an interesting take on how we could imagine our future,’ she said.

Nic Crawley, head of sustainability at Allford Hall Monaghan Morris, introduced the evening. He talked about his experience of cycling across the US last year on the Portland to Portland charity cycle ride. ‘I saw a huge variety of water ecology,’ he said.

Read about the LI's UK premiere of the film here.

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