Water Equity Clearinghouse

Sustainable South Bronx

South Bronx, New York City, NY

Sustainable South Bronx (SSBx) was founded in 2001 in an effort to advocate for parks and green development in the South Bronx. This neighborhood has borne much of the pollution burden for New York City, from air pollution to commercial waste, and has not received the financial or political attention to remedy the health and environmental problems residents are now facing. SSBx was a response to calls for environmental justice in an economically and socially afflicted neighborhood. Since its beginnings, SSBx has played a large role in developing the South Bronx Greenway, an area that will improve access to the waterfront, provide recreational opportunities, and increase the safety of transportation. Currently, SSBx is focusing on linking environmental justice concerns to the economic and social needs of low income residents through green job training, community greening programs, and social enterprises such as SmartRoofs.

Efforts to Advance Water Equity

Urban areas located near waterfronts have the capacity to contribute polluted runoff if city planners are not mindful of stormwater management. SSBx is changing this through their Bronx Environmental Stewardship Training (BEST) Academy, which provides over 15,000 hours of free green jobs training. So far, the BEST Academy has prepared 500 graduates to begin changing the way stormwater is managed and filtered before running off into the Bronx and Harlem rivers. BEST graduates install and maintain SmartRoofs to better capture, filter, and slowly drain rainwater, which helps prevent combined sewer overflows resulting from storms. Students of the academy have also helped build “pop-up” wetlands under the Major Deegan Expressway in the Bronx, to prevent rainwater contaminated from tail-pipe emissions to run into the Harlem River. In addition, these green collar workers have also implemented rain gardens in neighborhoods needing revitalization and beautification, further mitigating stormwater overflows in the South Bronx.

As a neighborhood located close to the coast, residents of the South Bronx and Hunts Point also recognize that climate change will increase the severity of hurricanes. Knowing that the area is an industrial zone with a high volume of toxic substances, SSBx understands that the waterfront community is highly vulnerable. While the area luckily did not experience flooding of their sewer systems during Hurricane Sandy, SSBx is not depending on luck for the next storm. The organization is now focusing on climate resilience projects to protect the neighborhood against catastrophic flooding.