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5th January

First Published in The New York Sun, January 5, 2007

By Andrew Wolf

Over a year ago, I wrote, critically, about Majora Carter, the “Genius of Hunts Point.” She was declared as such by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. I now feel the need to revisit Ms. Carter. MacArthur “geniuses” are given a $500,000 prize to do with as they wish.

Ms. Carter runs an organization called “Sustainable South Bronx,” and her major achievement thus far is planting grass on the roof of the building that houses her office. Ms. Carter has found a press-friendly way to mix the politically correct concern with things environmental with some good old-fashioned charges of race-based victimization. Quoth she: “Poor communities of color are just as deserving of clean air, clean water and open space as wealthier ones.”

Ms. Carter was just named by Newsweek as a “Who’s Next” person for 2007. If she is what’s next for the new year, then her impoverished neighbors in Hunts Point had best begin looking ahead to better days in 2008.

To advance her agenda, Ms. Carter paints a dismal picture of the Bronx, which certainly has more than its share of poverty and political corruption. But as bad as reality is, the image Ms. Carter projects is far worse. Her Bronx is a lot like Gotham City in the first Batman movie. Grey, crumbling, and gushing toxic waste. In the Newsweek article she spoke of her Bronx childhood, asserting that she glimpsed nature only when she visited the blueberry patch in her aunt’s backyard in New Jersey.

What is she talking about? All that was needed to immerse little Majora in the wonders of nature was to hop on the number 19 bus on Southern Boulevard, which would have, in 15 minutes, gotten her to the Bronx Zoo and the New York Botanical Garden, where there is a lot more nature to be found than in her aunt’s blueberry patch.

The Bronx is blessed with a most comprehensive park system, as good as that found anywhere in the world. The borough is home not only to the zoo and botanical garden, which share the hourglass-shaped “Bronx Park” in the center of the borough, but two others, Van Cortlandt Park on the west and Pelham Bay Park on the east, all connected by a network of parkways that allow motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians to cross from one end of the Bronx to the other without losing sight of grass and trees.

According to our former parks commissioner, Henry Stern, Pelham Bay Park, the largest in the city, is three-and-a-half times larger than Central Park in Manhattan.

If this was all that the Bronx had in the way of parkland, by the standards of most cities, it would be plenty. But, according to Mr. Stern, the Bronx has the highest percentage of its land devoted to parks than any of the five boroughs. So the Bronx is not devoid of green space, as Ms. Carter charges, but is, in reality, bursting with it.

Sustainable South Bronx defines itself as pursuing “environmental justice,” which is a term that has become meaningless in the Bronx of today. There is no longer a “north” or “south” Bronx as a demarcation indicating poverty or race. The borough is nearly 90% minority and is the poorest of the state’s 62 counties, perhaps the poorest in the nation. The Bronx is home to a million-and-a-half people, and an urban concentration of this magnitude generates waste. However it is removed, it will impact on poor “people of color.”

My argument is that we no longer generate enough waste, at least the kind that is the unfortunate but necessary result of a vigorous economy. Ms. Carter is so far out on the fringe of the naysayers who have fought job creation here that she opposed the recent deal to build the new Yankee Stadium, one of the few bright spots in the otherwise bleak Bronx economic picture.

Our problem is not that we don’t have enough open space since, as we have seen, there is plenty, but rather that we don’t have enough jobs. It is 100,000 new jobs that will cure what ails the Bronx, not mowing the lawns on a thousand rooftops.

For years Ms. Carter has spoken of building a factory that would transform, as Newsweek put it, “recycled materials into new products,” creating hundreds of new jobs. If it exists, this is a curious business plan in that it fails to define exactly what product she will produce. How does someone who has fought so hard to restrict the movement of vehicles in and out of her community propose to transport her mysterious product to the outside world? Perhaps it will be beamed to remote locations like in Star Trek, a perfectly appropriate solution for this “genius.”

© 2007 The New York Sun, One, SL, LLC. All rights reserved.

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