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Blazing a green trail through the Bronx

By Matthew Knight for CNN
  • Majora Carter making green tracks through the urban grime in New York City
  • Environmental campaigner has led efforts to transform wastelands in the South Bronx
  • New South Bronx Greenway will provide further access to green space for residents

(CNN) -- "You don't have to move out of your neighborhood to live in a better one," says Majora Carter.

It's a philosophy the environmental justice campaigner has embraced wholeheartedly in her adult life, transforming the neighborhood she was so desperate to escape as a child.

Her attempts to extricate herself from the polluted, crime-ridden streets of Hunts Point in New York City's South Bronx were initially successful. Good grades at high school earned her a place at Wesleyan University in Connecticut.

But when she returned to New York to start a master's degree she was broke, leaving her little option but to return to live with her parents.

"I didn't want to be here. I thought it was really ugly. I thought people didn't care," she said. "But it occurred to me that if I wasn't doing something about it, then why would anybody."

Turning the ghetto green
I didn't want to be here. I thought it was really ugly and people didn't care
--Majora Carter

It was a chance visit (prompted by her errant dog, Xena) to an illegal dumping ground by the Bronx River that proved to be Carter's environmental tipping point.

"I knew it would be the start of my community waterfront transformation which would then go right inland as well," she said.

Carter founded Sustainable South Bronx (SSBx) in 2001, spearheading a campaign to restore what has become the Hunts Point Riverside Park.

Opened in 2007, the project is one of several projects -- including the Bronx Environmental Stewardship Training program -- the non-profit organization has promoted.

"Environmental justice, or as I like to call it environmental equality, means that no community should have to bear the brunt of lots of environmental burdens and not enjoy some environmental benefits," she said.

Her leadership has gone a long way to addressing the environmental imbalance that has contributed to social and economic blight in the Bronx.

The area is home to 30-40% of New York City's commercial waste handling, she says, with about 60,000 diesel truck trips made through the community every week.

But as the trucks keep rolling in, so Carter keeps on rolling out initiatives and championing the expansion of green space.

The South Bronx Greenway will eventually be an eleven-mile network of bike and pedestrian pathways, she explains, complete with storm water management and recreational systems.

It's also a good way to economically recharge the area, says Carter, who now heads up her own private economic consulting firm.

"My dream for the South Bronx is that they see themselves in a way that allows them to know that they are part of healthy economy, a healthy environment and that it does come back to support them."