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18th November
2005

First Published in The New York Sun, November 18, 2005

By Andrew Wolf

You may have heard the name Majora Carter recently. Ms. Carter, a 38-year-old Hunts Point resident, has recently been designated a “genius” by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

The “genius” grant comes with $500,000 in cash for the recipient to do with as he or she pleases, presumably to advance some important work. Often that work is in the arts or sciences. In Ms. Carter’s case, it is for her work as an “urban strategist,” “renewing” the South Bronx community.
The South Bronx could use a genius. It has become a world symbol of urban decay and abject poverty. Alas, Ms. Carter’s “genius” holds no promise for turning things around there. In fact, she and her “group,” Sustainable South Bronx, are part of a network of radical organizations, led by the hard left organizing group, ACORN.Their goal is indeed sustaining something: a way of life built on dependency.

Here’s how Ms. Carter describes her view of her community,expressed on the op-ed page of Newsday earlier this year: “I am from the South Bronx, a low-income Latino and African-American neighborhood that has been forced by city and state regulatory agencies to accommodate a disproportionate amount of New York City’s regional infrastructure. Our neighbors are waste and sewage facilities.We suffer 55,000 diesel trucks per week, hauling most of the greater metropolitan area’s food, as well as waste of all sorts, into the borough and out.”

The implication is that the establishment has found this community of innocent minorities, victimizing them with all this awful stuff.

The truth is very different. Hunts Point has been the Bronx’s industrial waterfront for as long as there has been industry and people in this borough. Group after group has come and gone over the past century, living in the same or worse conditions than found today. When the choice is made to live in this community, it has always been with the full knowledge that you will share space with heavy industry and the waste that economic activity produces. On the other side of the ledger are jobs. That is what drew folks to live here in the first place.

Ms. Carter’s particular genius has been in finding surefire ways to insure that the tens of thousands of jobs that were once located there, never return. The agenda she promotes sounds something like this: industry equals pollution, pollution equals asthma and since the South Bronx has a particularly high asthma rate, we don’t want more industry.That, she will tell you, is environmental racism.

This is accepted like religious gospel by both the political establishment and the press. But it is demonstrably wrong.As asthma rates have skyrocketed,the air quality of the city,and particularly areas like Hunts Point, has gotten much better.

During its heyday, Hunts Point was filled with factories.The Hebrew National company, known for Kosher hot dogs, now answers to higher authority — in Indiana. Farberware once employed as many as thousand Bronxites, but now makes pots and pans abroad.The Salton Company, which makes the popular George Foreman grills, made its first food warmers in the South Bronx. No more. Häagen-Dazs ice cream has its roots not in some Scandinavian country, but was invented in the Bronx. Now it is made in New Jersey. The American Bank Note Company, which literally made money (for foreign countries), was once the area’s largest employer. It is moved away a generation ago.

Replacing much of the lost industry are vast auto parts graveyards, covering acres.They are ugly, and don’t employ too many people considering the huge area they cover, but it can be argued that they don’t cause much air pollution.

The trucks, cars, and buses that were the lifeblood of the area in my youth spewed exhaust from leaded gasoline and lacked the anti-pollution devices now found on all vehicles. Hundreds of Bronx apartment buildings used to dispose of garbage by burning it right on premises. Anything residents tossed down the chute was incinerated with little or no concern about what came out of the chimney.This practice has been banned for more than a decade. Add to that the exodus of much of the industry and the result is much cleaner air.

If air pollution has diminished as the asthma rate has increased, how can one link the two? Medical researchers don’t know why asthma rates have spiked in places like the South Bronx. A few years ago, doctors at the Albert Einstein School of Medicine, also located in the Bronx,suggested that the presence of cockroaches increases the asthma rate. This does not sit well with the activists. They reject explanations that suggest problems could be solved by individuals accepting personal responsibility for keeping clean homes.

It is more convenient to blame government and industry. Meanwhile, “geniuses” like Ms. Carter rail against the injustice of capitalism, suggesting that the future of the South Bronx lies in schemes like planting grass on the roofs of local buildings, Ms. Carter’s most recent crusade.

Recently Ms. Carter was brought down to New Orleans by her friends at ACORN to offer her expertise to rebuild the city. It seems to me that the Big Easy, like the South Bronx, does need a dose of genius. I suggest a real genius, that of the private enterprise system.Once you have jobs, all of the other problems will begin to solve themselves.

© 2005 The New York Sun, One, SL, LLC. All rights reserved.

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