Every day is Earth Day in The Bronx

As millions of Americans across the country engage in Earth Day activities and celebrations to raise awareness on environmental issues such as pollution, environmental justice, and even more so as of late, climate change, The Bronx, unfortunately, takes center stage with being the borough that is plagued with many of these issued more disproportionately than any of the other five boroughs that make up New York City.

Just a few weeks ago, the New York City Mayor’s Office of Climate & Environmental Justice released the first ever comprehensive study on environmental inequality across the city.

And it was no surprise, at least to many Bronxites—especially those who work within environmental justice in the borough—that The Bronx topped the list in several categories.

Some of the findings in the report indicated that:

  • Low-income Bronx residents report the highest rates of transit hardship across the five boroughs
  • Residents in the Bronx experience both the highest rates of food insecurity and the highest rates of diet-related diseases, such as diabetes and high blood pressure
  • Exposure to polluted water was highest in New York City neighborhoods such as the Southeast Bronx due to stormwater flooding
  • The Bronx also had several areas with high heat vulnerability that has been exacerbated with rising temps due to climate change.

These are just some of the issues that, unfortunately contribute to the borough continuing to top the charts in such reports.

Concrete Plant Park, a former concrete manufacturing plant along the Bronx River is one of the many success stories of reclaiming once polluted industrial lands along the river and converting them into open, recreational spaces for Bronxites

It’s also the reason why it’s so important to support the many grassroots organizations within our borough, orgs that have been founded from the very people living through these conditions who sought to make the borough a better place for all and leave it just a little better than they found it, so that they can continue to elevate these issues to the forefront lest they be forgotten and neglected by our government.

Organizations like The Bronx River Alliance, which this year is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the founding of The Bronx River Restoration Group, that has turned the river into a literal sewer and dumping ground into one of the most successful environmental stories in the city.

Since the group’s inception, over 20 acres of new parkland have been added to the borough along the Bronx River as well as the rehabilitation of New York City’s only fresh-water river that has seen the return of wildlife such as the first beavers in the city in over 200 years, fish, oysters at the mouth of the river, and yes, even dolphins who came to visit last year and frolic in its waters.

None of this could have been done without the people power of the borough.

Other organizations in the borough that have worked tirelessly to right the wrongs of environmental injustices are groups like South Bronx Unite, which was founded over a decade ago when area residents united against a sweetheart deal given to FreshDirect to move its truck-intensive operations to the South Bronx waterfront.

The move eventually added thousands of extra trucks to an area that was already suffering from some of the highest rates of pollutions in the city and some of the highest rates of asthma not just in the city but in the country.

Despite FreshDirect succeeding in moving to the South Bronx, this did not stop South Bronx Unite from continuing the fight for environmental justice in the area and since then, has continued to work for a better South Bronx for all.

Speaking of air pollution, we can’t talk about the subject of environmental justice without talking about The Cross Bronx Expressway which like an ugly scar, tore the borough in half and, along with its creation, displaced roughly 40,000 residents and destroyed neighborhoods along the way.

Imagine a Cross Bronx Expressway that’s mostly covered and being able to walk across a park to the other side of the neighborhoods that it cut decades ago in the name of “progress”.

For the past several years, Nilka Martell, founder of Loving The Bronx, has advocated for “capping The Cross Bronx” which would, in areas where possible, plate over one of the busiest highways in the nation and creating new green spaces above to help restitch the neighborhoods that were bisected with its creation.

Air pollution along the infamous thoroughfare is among the worst in the city contributing to some of the worst asthma rates in nation.

What all these groups have in common is the indomitable spirit of the people of The Bronx who, facing inequities and more obstacles than the average New York City neighborhood, won’t take no for an answer and utilize their collective power to bring about positive change in the borough.

It’s the same spirit that rebuilt the borough when the the city abandoned it in the 70s and 80s.

Although we celebrate Earth Day once a year just remember that for many in The Bronx it’s not just a day of action but a literal way of life that seeps into what they do 365 days of the year to leave our beloved home better than what we inherited.

So next time you enjoy a nice walk along The Bronx River, remember that you can do so because of ordinary people just like you and me, did extraordinary things decades ago so that you can do so.

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Ed García Conde

Ed García Conde is a life-long Bronxite who spends his time documenting the people, places, and things that make the borough a special place in the hopes of dispelling the negative stereotypes associated with The Bronx. His writings are often cited by mainstream media and is often consulted for his expertise on the borough's rich history.