The LACUNY Institute “Greening Libraries ==> Greener Communities” was held on Friday, October 31, 2008 at the Bronx Library Center, a branch of the New York Public Library. The conference was co-sponsored by the Library Association of the City University of New York and the New York Public Library. It received support from the New York Library Club, Springer, EBSCO and BUSCA.
In the morning, a Greening Books Panel, moderated by Brita Servaes (New School) featured Shannon Binns, Green Press Initiative, Andrew Van Der Laan, Senior Project Manager Publishing Operations Projects Group, Random House.
Shannon Binns (photo by Joanne Canales)
Following the breakout sessions, the branch manager for the Bronx Library Center, Leslie Harrison, welcomed everyone back into the auditorium and gave some history of the notable building. Then Jennifer King, LACUNY Institute co-chair, introduced the final speaker of the day, Majora Carter. King took a moment to ask the audience to join her in wishing Carter a happy birthday.
Majora Carter (photo by Joanne Canales)
Majora Carter is the founder of the Sustainable South Bronx, a MacArthur “Genius” Fellow and someone the BBC World Service as called “New York City’s most influential environmentalist.”
She opened with her audience of librarians in mind. Carter’s image featured on the cover of the Scholastic book, Boundary Breakers: Remarkable People was the opening backdrop as the keynote recalled her childhood love for the Hunts Point branch of the New York Public Library. She offered some family history, weaving the personal and the public. Her parents’ immigration from the south, redlining, white flight and Robert Moses’ building of highways through the Bronx to connect Manhattan and the suburbs all figured into the story. Landord disinvestment, the torching and abandonment of apartment buildings and the demolition of playgrounds and school band programs all colored Carter’s childhood and led to the demise of the Bronx. The borough now supports 40% of New York City’s waste sewage plants and power plants. Carter notes that both race and class have determined environmental injustice. As a result of this dumping in the Bronx one in four children has asthma and many suffer from learning disabilities.
Carter began her worked to stop environmental racism when New York City decided to close the Fresh Kills garbage dump and build a sewage treatment plant in the Bronx to replace it. Carter joined with others to revitalized the south Bronx water front that had become a dump. A neighborhood that had been defined by crime and garbage could now be defined by emerging green spaces. She founded Sustainable South Bronx (SSB) and helped develop the Bronx greenway master plan. This plan will use $1.25 Million to create a park that will eventually unify islands of green spaces in the Bronx. SSB went on to develop the Bronx Environmental Stewardship Training program (BEST), the first green training program in the U.S. Carter noted that people in the Bronx, with a 25% rate of unemployment, could be trained to do waterfront restoration, tree trimming, etc. Young people are being steered towards employment and away from prison. She illustrated how transformative BEST has been for the community with the story of how a young man trained in tree pruning became a social scientist when he realized that trimming trees let a street light flood an area that formerly had been a dark place where drug dealers lurked. Tree trimming led to crime reduction. Because the South Bronx has been used for so long as a dumping ground for other people’s waste, Carter and SSB have asked their community to look into this waste and think of ways they can use what is there. Young people have been trained in carpentry so that wooden pallets from the food industry have been turned into furniture.
The Sustainable South Bronx has worked creatively. Lacking funds to publicize the newly developed park, they used the simple device of a green line painted down a sidewalk to lead people to the park They started a green roof program that even included small vegetable gardens. SSB has partnered with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to bring a Fabrication Laboratory (FabLab) to the Bronx. The goal of FabLab is “to bring ‘digital fabrication,’ the modern means of production, to ordinary people for solving community problems. Ideas are conceived and designed in the digital world, and can be realized in the physical world through the FabLab.”
Carter is hopeful that the South Bronx can be turned into an Eco Industrial Center. Job creation within a community coupled with the resources available in the community can turn things around. SSB had identified an area of the Bronx that would be ideal for creating an Eco Industrial Center but, unfortunately, New York City chose to use the same site for a 2000 bed prison. Carter offered the site Green For All for further investigation. Its goal is to create green jobs here in the U.S. Green for All, along with Carter’s own, newly created consulting firm, work to help businesses and communities to see their green potential. Majoracartergoup itself is currently working with Elizabeth City, North Carolina, to ally the threat of a rising sea level.
Carter closed on a very powerful note, imagining that Martin Luther King did not see a future of white or black or yellow or brown, but rather a future for all of green. Green meaning people living healthy and sustainable lives.
Following Majora Carter’s presentation, Jennifer King presented Carter with a certificate from LACUNY honoring the environmental activist for her contribution, as a non-librarian, to the work of LACUNY.
The afternoon keynote was delivered by Fred Stoss, the Associate Librarian for Biological, Environmental Sciences, and Mathematics at the University of Buffalo SUNY. Stoss is one of the “1000 Climate Messengers” trained by Al Gore and the Climate Project.
City University of New York University Librarian, Curtis Kendrick, wrapped up the day. Kendrick thanked the audience for coming and congratulated CUNY libraries for the role they are playing in the University with its greater efforts towards creating a more sustainable institution.
Committee members Songqian Lu, Rita Ormsby, Beth Evans, Jennifer King, and Clay Williams pose with speakers Majora Carter and Fred Stoss (photo by Joanne Canales)
How librarians will carry on a greening mission is a work in progress and calls for persistence and creative thinking. The LACUNY/NYPL conference “Greening Libraries ==> Greener Communities contributed in its way to set this course in motion.
Beth Evans (Brooklyn)