Urban Revitalization

It goes without saying. Our world is growing bigger and more complicated everyday. Especially in our urban centers where economic and political fortunes are beginning to shift and reflect the values of a much more culturally diverse population. Despite the devastating effects failing banks and climate change there are rising many new opportunities to tap into the dynamic energy and financial resources of previously under represented members of our society. Leading the way toward positive outcomes in a brighter future is urban revitalization strategist Majora Carter.

Urban Revitalization Strategist Majora Carter

Urban Revitalization Strategist Majora Carter

“An urban revitalization strategist, or me, is a person who identifies in particular low-income  communities and in our inner cities in the States, and looks around and sees what the problems are, what the failings are and figures out strategies to improve them both socially and environmentally as well as economically,” she said in this interview. “And you have to have all three involved, because it’s not just about putting band aids on these communities. It’s literally about increasing the quality of life, economically, socially as well as environmentally.”

Majora Carter was the keynote speaker at the biannual breakfast meeting of the Outdoor Industry Association during the 2013 Outdoor Retailer Winter Market in Salt Lake City Utah. Sharing her thoughts on strategies for urban revitalization she impressed upon those in attendance the importance of reaching out to under served communities, in particular people of color. Now that a majority of the worlds’ population lives in cities it is in these urban areas where we must now strive to achieve lasting change for the benefit of humanity. Working in the South Bronx borough of New York City, Carter is putting together solid plans to make this and other communities across the U.S. into vital centers of sustainable economic growth and development while helping to protect the environment. With the creation of both green jobs and green spaces in the heart of our biggest cities Carter hopes to encourage an ethos of conservation that will serve the interests of wilderness as well.

JTP:
The bulk of your work right now is in the South Bronx (New York), now work internationally but specifically what exactly have you done to revitalize that particular urban setting?

Carter:
Sure, we literally wanted to sort of flip the script on what was considered development in our community. So much of it was actually around noxious facilities and burdensome things of that nature, power plants, etc., and we wanted to change the landscape by creating more ecologically sound development. So it started with parks and greenways. And then we even went to people and started one of the country’s very first green-collar job and placement systems. Now we’re moving into real estate development because we understand that you can use real estate development as a platform for social, environmental and economic change, if it’s done correctly and strategically. It can be a transformation tool, which it has not been used that way before in poor communities.

JTP:
So what’s the disconnect? How is it that we even need to have someone like you tell us that the spaces that we occupy perhaps as residential areas or as businesses require some type of revitalization?

Carter:
The disconnect is that there are really low expectations placed on poor communities in general. And the people that are in them, and the elected that allegedly support them, the regulators who are supposed to regulating them, that kind of dynamic has been going on for generations to the point where I think even people who live there believe it. And I used to be one of them, until I realized that wait a second, if we can create the infrastructure and supports to allow better things to grow…because no one will rise to low expectation. You can’t. So if you raise the expectations and give people the tools to rise to them they can and they will.

JTP:
And apparently they do. Just looking at the slides that you showed in your presentation today, you have revitalized these communities especially when it comes to urban parks. I think that there is also an opportunity, and this is what I find fascinating, to perhaps bring industry back to these areas. Tell me a little bit about what you are doing with regard to what you described as boutique manufacturing.

Carter:
Sure, real estate development and using it as a transformational tool for our communities is front and center in my mind. It’s all about increasing economic diversity in currently poor communities. And to do that you’ve got to create a playing field that allows the type of industries to grow in that place so that people who were not gainfully employed before with the proper training can be employed in those type of things.
So manufacturing and moving manufacturing into the 21st Century, we are never going back to where we were in the 60s in the 50s. That Golden Era is gone. We can change it. And so I think that when we looked and followed the trends of what’s actually happening, boutique apparel manufacturing happening domestically because Asia is no longer the great deal that it once was. And I think we’re going to be seeing a lot more of that going forward. So when we’re talking about what are the specific pieces, whether it’s outdoor industry manufacturers, or whether it’s high-end couture, what can we bring into these communities so that the people who are actually doing this work can actually see their product, and actually get a better, in real-time, understanding about their product and do it in communities that absolutely need that kind of revitalization going on right there. And meets the core business strategy of these companies. So boutique manufacturers are absolutely the people that I want to start identifying to look at these post industrial cities as the next place for them to be locating.

JTP:
Now speaking specifically about the outdoor industry, I remember, because I’ve been in this business long enough to remember the days when most sleeping bags were made right here in the United States. Most technical jackets, especially those that had Gore-Tex were created right here. They’ve moved over to China. I’m curious to know what is it that needs to be different about those manufacturers now to reach this new model that you’re describing.

Carter:
From my conversation with some folks in the outdoor industry there has to be an emphasis on quality and design. And think developing those relationships with folks that are here and raising expectations of what’s going to happen is going to be really important going forward. Because I do think that we have redevelop relationships that have been lost. I’m not saying that it’s going to be easy.It’s not going to happen over night, but we are building the foundation for us to grow what is essentially a nascent industry in the states again. And I think if we can get the right players at the table we can get the governments, we can get the businesses who are interested in doing this thing. Let them apply corporate/social responsibility, but do it with a capital C. So that they are doing their core competencies, work with municipalities and really work with the kind of groups that want to see people employed. Then you’ve got something really valuable that’s going to grow.

JTP:
You’re not talking about philanthropic institutions here at all. You’re talking about real world economic development. Now we’ve talked about manufacturing. What about specifically with regard to retail. We have an industry that is predominantly populated in terms of employment and in terms of consumption in frankly a white majority that’s starting to shift. What can we look forward to with regard to racial diversity when it comes to the outdoor industry in particular.

Carter:
Oh, I think that when you really stop think about it the outdoor industry, much of it, is outdoor inspired fashion, which we know already has a certain level of caché within inner-city communities. But I still think that we haven’t really brushed the surface in terms of really building the kind of market transformation that the folks there can really be a part of and really becoming serious customers for even much bigger and better things. I think that there’s a whole host of people out there who would be interested in being consumers of stuff if it was there. It’s not like poor communities don’t have money to spend. They do. In and of ourselves we add an enormous amount to the GDP. I would personally prefer if they were spending money on much more healthy ways to be healthy, which is really kind of exciting to think about it. So the idea that we’ve not really investigated how do we explore that it seems to me that is an opportunity just aching to happen.

JTP:
What do you suppose it will take. What does the outdoor industry specifically have to do to perhaps corner that market?

Carter:
Oh! Work with people like me to come up with strategies to help make it happen. Seriously, moving people to see things in a different way. That’s what you have to do. You need to know what they’re looking at, know what inspires them, and then figure out ways to where what would be considered strange bedfellows can find common cause and work together. You know and it is going to be through job creation. It is going to be through audience development. It is going to be through education. And when you add all those things together then you’ve got market transformation that supports obviously the bottom line of a business, but also supports communities and their revitalization in ways that we have not even thought of before. And those two things together, I’m really interested in people being tax payers not tax burdens. And right now unfortunately that’s what we have in our inner cities, because there is not the kind of economic diversity. There is not the kind of really deliberate strategic economic development going on that can literally put money in people’s pockets in a legitimate way and allows them to grown and be a part of the tax base. I want to support a tax base by supporting local economic development. I think the outdoor industry can play an enormous role in helping to make that happen in areas that there has been far too little positive development happening.
JTP:
You’re clearly very enthusiastic about this, and I think that you have a lot of really great ideas. What do you see as some of the problems or some of the pitfalls that lie in wait for what you have planned.

Carter:
It’s bizarre but I don’t see that many pitfalls to tell you the truth. You know at least what has been so encouraging to me here about the Outdoor Industry Association and folks that have been around it is they see and they understand that America’s demographics are changing. And it’s not honestly and for lack of being PC, sorry about that, but it’s not done in a really bizarre you know white guilt paternalistic way. It’s just like you know what? Times they are a-changing we need to roll and let’s figure out a way to roll. And I respect that so much. And so I’d love to partner with these folks and go to municipalities and be like look we want to invest in these types of communities because this is going to support business development in your city. I think that is a powerful combination to do. I think it’s also great when you bring in utilities who are just like how do we create, how do we reduce demand because we know that we’re not going to be able to build power plants. So we have to figure out ways to support our own business model here. Maybe we should be thinking about ways to reduce energy consumption and support people to do that so that it actually helps us in the future. You know maybe conservation groups are also seeing their main clientele, frankly the aging and white baby boomers who are dying off and who don’t see national parks, because they’re dying, as valuable as they once did. And guess what, American demographics are getting darker and more urban and they may or may not go to those places. We still want people to car about them, which made you start building places in nature when people live so that there is a connection and so that there’s value everywhere. And so they are all strange bedfellows sometimes, they’ve never talked before but bringing them together in ways that ultimately improve and support the quality of life and economic lives of these communities is the way that we can change the world.

JTP:
OK so what’s the first next step? What do we do first?

Carter:
I’ve got a whole stack of business cards and on my next trip I’m going to sit and talk up to people who can we work together. I feel really both empowered and impassioned to help this industry help us. Because I think I’m going to be able to help them. So when we can find common cause that way and we’re both looking at our own self interests through the eyes of someone else’s self-interest, guess what, powerful wonderful things can happen. And I am excited about just the prospect of building climbing walls in inner-city communities around the country and having that be the first access for a kid in our community to then go climb Denali, because they know that there’s a link. How cool is that? How cool is that? Buying the gear then going someplace else and doing it. Those types of kinds give me chills. It really does. Yeah, we’ve got a long way to go. But I think we’re sitting in such a beautiful moment where great things can change.

JTP:
You can learn more about Majora Carter and her work as an urban revitalization strategist on-line. Visit www.MajoraCarterGroup.com. For the Joy Trip Project this is James Mills.

New music by Jake Shimabukuro. Checkout his new latest album Grand Ukulele available now on iTunes.images-jakeshimabukuro-com-uploads-news_headers-JS_GU_CoverMini_72_F-275x275

 

 

The Joy Trip Project is made possible with the support sponsors Patagonia, Rayovac, the New Belgium Brewing Company  and the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market

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Thanks for listening. But you know I want to hear from you. So please drop me a note with your questions comments and criticisms to info@joytripproject.com. Go be joyful! And until next time, take care.

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Author:James Mills

I'm a freelance journalist that specializes in telling stories about outdoor recreation, environmental conservation, acts of charitable giving and practices of sustainable living.

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