Majora Carter on the Power of Imagination and Greening the Ghetto

By Riley Black

"Imagination is more valuable than technical know-how," says urban revitalization specialist Majora Carter. When facing a challenge - like turning a neglected part of the Bronx River waterfront into a vibrant green space - Carter suggests thinking about possibility and talking to everyone possible about your idea. "There are good people around any corner," she notes, and "it's not possible to predict how each step of the way will lead to another." Sharing your vision can often go further than getting mired in the nuts and bolts of how it will become manifest.

Carter's seen the process through time and again. A real estate developer, MacArthur Fellow, and urban revitalization strategy consultant, Carter lectures at Princeton University, is a producer at GROUNDTRUTH, and even has her wisdom quoted on the walls of the Smithsonian Museum of African American History - "Nobody should have to move out of their neighborhood to live in a better one."

That maxim is at the center of of Carter's upcoming talk at NHMU, "Green the Ghetto." Neighborhood environments send powerful messages to the people who live there and to those passing through. "Lots of poorly-maintained trees, green spaces, parks, and roadway medians will damage the reputation of those things and hinder their replication," Carter says, with an impression of ill-maintained parks or paths leading community members to not embracing and supporting green solutions. "The mainteance of green infrastructure," Carter says, "is critical."

This isn't a matter of people outside communities coming in, but rather communities coming together "There is no substitute for home and business ownership in its ability to give communities the unfettered ability to help themselves," Carter says. Her book, Reclaiming Your Community, is centered in that principle and the idea that no one should have to move to another part of town, city, or state to feel at home.

Of course, work to revitalize and change low-income and other underserved communities is a big challenge. Finding funding is a huge challenge, Carter notes, especially when systemic racism prevents money from going to communities who need it most. As parks, paths, and green spaces go up, these sources of oppression also have to be dismantled. "There's always the example of Tulsa and many other Black commercial corridors that were burned down by white mobs," Carter points out, an indication that revitalization is not the whole of the solution. Longstanding sources of oppression have to be dismantled to let communities truly thrive.

Ultimately, Carter notes, she hopes that people leave her lecture thinking "What can I do?" - not in a defeatist way, but a hopeful one. Everyone has some way to help, something to contribute, from ideas to funding to technical know-how to change the nature of where we live. Even if the series of steps we need to take may seem uncertain, it's still important to take that first step.

Majora Carter was a speaker in the 2022 Lecture Series. Click here to learn more about our upcoming Lecture Series here. Or, click here to read more about the 2022 Lecture Series.

Riley Black is the author of The Last Days of the Dinosaurs, Skeleton Keys, My Beloved Brontosaurus, and is a science writer for the Natural History Museum of Utah, a part of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. Our mission is to illiminate the natural world and the place of humans within it. In addition to housing outstanding exhibits for the public, NHMU is a research museum. Learn more.

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