Yes, In My Backyard


This article was written on 29 Sep 2014, and is filled under In The News, New York.

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Low-income neighborhoods have historically been burdened with buildings and infrastructure NIMBY’d away from other neighborhoods, but if communities are empowered, they can direct transformation of such architecture.

The Spofford Juvenile Center was a particularly painful landmark in the Hunts Point community in the Bronx when it was built in 1957. The notoriously brutal incarceration facility funneled in children from all over New York City.

bridge“There were 100 percent negative associations with the place,” says urban revitalization strategist Majora Carter, who grew up down the block. “Parents would lord the Youth House, as we called it, over the kids as a place they would go if they were bad. At the same time, it was understood that it was not a good place for kids.” Her father worked as a janitor in the building in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

Spofford was shut down by the city in 2011. Around that time, Carter was formulating ideas about how to combine economic drivers with housing in neighborhoods that desperately need both. “I literally looked down the street from my house and thought, ‘Oh my gosh, that site is big enough to play out this model for real estate development that would have a social, environmental and economic transformational effect that I would like to see happen.’”

Carter has a reputation for strong-arming her enterprising ideas into reality. She spurred the development of Hunts Point Riverside Park and acted as executive director of Sustainable South Bronx for seven years. As a private consultant, Carter works with communities across the country on sustainable development projects.

She envisions the Spofford site combining mixed-income housing, open space and economic development that would appeal to the neighborhood’s existing demographics. Carter is a supporter of affordable housing, but thinks that if it’s built in isolation, you still haven’t solved the problems of employment and a lack of amenities.

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