Hunts Point neighborhood

Hunts Point

Several organizations with environmental education programs – including Sustainable South Bronx, A.C.T.I.O.N. at the Point CDC, and Rocking the Boat, and the Bronx River Alliance – work with people in the Hunts Point (Bronx Community District 2). This is a neighborhood the South Bronx where the Bronx River flows into the East River with 47,000 residents (75% of Hispanic origin, and 37% are not proficient in English).

Environmental justice movement in Hunts Point reminds that this neighborhood has several undesirable sites, including the water treatment plant, prison, and the largest in the world food distribution center, and very few green areas. Surrounded by two rivers, until recently this neighborhood did not have waterfront access for local people. Two beautiful public parks (Barretto Park and Hunts Point Park) were just opened, but majority of residents still cannot find green areas within 10-15 minutes walk from their house.

I just thought how different environmental stewardship or civic ecology programs can be in remote rural areas where there are few people vs. Hunts Point where open space areas should be created first. In fact, some education programs in Hunts Point focus primarily on environmental policy topics (letter writing, public hearings, community presentations, etc.) to enable youth to be advocates of their environment, and to create green areas.

Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice

YMPJ on the Bronx River

Today I had an incredible opportunity to visit and learn about Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice – a nonprofit organization famous for its outstanding service for communities in the Bronx, empowering youth through education programs, and bringing hope of building thriving, stronger, and healthier communities near the Bronx River.Alexie Torres-Fleming is a founder and executive director of YMPJ. She was born and grew up in the South Bronx. She has strong leadership, charisma, and love for this community where she opened YMPJ in mid 90th, and now this organization inspires many young people to take more active position in community issues.

I visited YMPJ when Gretchen Ferenz (Urban Environment program leader in CCE-NYC) organized a course on Sustainability in Historic Preservation, and one of classes of this course took place in YMPJ. Alexie told a meaningful story about how she grew up in this neighborhood and about different struggles that this community went through, and about impressive programs, including environmental education program, which this organization offer to youth.

One of interesting environmental stories was about the 1.2-long Sheridan Expressway going through this neighborhood. The problem is that this expressway cuts Bronx’s residents from the Bronx River and urban forests along the river, and possibly is one of the main causes of one of the highest rates of asthma. YMPJ initiated public debates about decommission of this expressway, and conducts restoration and education projects on the River.

Today YMPJ (Alexie Torres and Stephen Oliveira) also organized a short trip on the Bronx River. It was the first canoe trip in my life. I can tell now that the Bronx River is a real treasure! We have seen swans, herons, and other wildlife – and this is in the larges American city. What I learned about YMPJ and the Bronx River exceeded all my expectations.

This is the description of YMPJ from the web:

Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice (“YMPJ”) works to develop young people for lives dedicated to the promotion of peace and justice. Through our work with youth, we collaboratively strive for the redevelopment of the South Bronx, molding young leaders who will create change for years to come. Our Community Wellness program helps young people understand the importance of physical activity and a healthy diet in the promotion of life-long health. The program also offers a venue for developing better and more equitable access to healthy foods and adequate recreational spaces in the South Bronx. We also work closely with the Bronx River Alliance on the development and activation of Concrete Plant Park, a destination along the Bronx River Greenway.

Bronx River Alliance

The Bronx River watershed

The overall task of this research is to build a general model of urban environmental education programs that develop stewardship in youth. The case study will be environmental education programs organized by or conducted in collaboration with the Bronx River Alliance (BxRA), a non-profit organization founded in 2001. It works with public and private partners “to protect, improve and restore the Bronx Rivercorridor and greenway so that they can be healthy ecological, recreational, educational, and economic resources for communities through which the river flows” (www.bronxriver.org). Now its office is housed at the Bronx headquarters of the NYC Department of Parks & Recreation near Bronx Zoo. BxRA has five core program areas: Ecology Restoration and Management, Greenway, Education, Outreach, and Recreation. The map above shows the Bronx River watershed in the South Bronx, and some of spots where BxRA conducted restoration activities.

BxRA connects underserved, yet vibrant and culturally diverse communities with theBronx River environmental corridor, and nurtures future environmental stewards who will care about their environment. BxRA is uniquely positioned to be part of this research because it engages the Bronx’s local residents, schools, and community groups in environmental activities, where they are often not passive recipients of imposed programs with pre-determined outcomes, but active agents of change. BxRA information brochures says that enhancing environmental stewardship is a priority for this organization: “We work with over 40 local schools, youth and community organizations to engage residents in the development of the Bronx River Greenway and in the river’s restoration. In doing so, we develop stewards who will protect the river and open spaces for the long term” (Bronx River Alliance brochure). BxRA is also participates in PlaNYC’s MillionTreesNYC initiative. The geographic focus of BxRA’s activities is the Bronx River greenway, which stretches through some of the most underserved Latino and African-American communities in the USin terms of public services and access to natural resources. These communities are characterized by immensely rich cultural and ethnic mosaics and local leadership, and have a strong potential to achieve more control over their environment and higher levels of environmental stewardship.

This is the description of BxRA from the web:

The Bronx River Alliance (“BxRA”) serves as a coordinated voice for the river and works in harmonious partnership to protect, improve and restore the Bronx River corridor and greenway so that they can be healthy ecological, recreational, educational and economic resources for the communities through which the river flows. We work closely with local and state agencies in the design and construction of the Bronx River Greenway and provide ecological restoration and management services in new and existing open spaces on and near the river. We also work to educate communities along the Bronx River about the local environment, in addition to providing a wide range of recreational opportunities in the open spaces on and near the river.

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