Greening the ghetto

Visiting is like being a kid in a candy store. For who doesn’t know it: you can find inspiring and pioneering lectures on Their motto is “Ideas Worth Spreading”. Their mission is mainly to offer a platform for great thinkers and doers to convince their audience of their vision or their new ideas. Each speaker has a maximum of 18 minutes for their talk. The content of the lectures does not include any heavy theoretical stuff. It is not about overall knowledge, but mainly about generating understanding and awareness and about showing applications of science that can contribute to a better world.

The themes vary widely. There are also some interesting lectures on the city available. For already several years, my favorite lecture has been: “Greening the ghetto” by Majora Carter. In this charismatic and emotional presentation, she tells about her work in the ‘South Bronx’ (New York). An industrialized area with a great number of waste processing installations, power stations, factories and freeways. She is the initiator of ‘Hunts Point Riverside Park’, the first park in the South Bronx for over 6o years. And that was the starting point of a large-scale and demand-driven urban renewal. Together with a large neighborhood network, she is working on reducing environmental issues, creating more green spaces (parks, trees) and employment. All for the benefit of the local residents.

At the same time, she confronts the viewer with the relation between socio-economic deprivations and health issues. "Our 27% obesity rate is high even for this country, and diabetes comes with it. One out of four South Bronx children has asthma. Our asthma hospitalization rate is seven times higher than the national average." This relation between education level, income and health also exists in the Netherlands. A number of years ago, the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport published some revealing figures. For example: men with the lowest level of education live almost 7 years shorter than men with the highest level of education. When it comes to the years that are ‘experienced in health’, the difference is even almost 19 years. The latter difference is because the less educated suffer more often from heart conditions, obesity, back problems, asthma, rheumatic disorders, psychological problems and limitations of the musculoskeletal system. And their lifestyle and living conditions often make it more difficult to live healthy. They more often live in neighborhoods that have a negative effect on health (indoor environments, lack of parks and cycle tracks and air pollution because of the presence of factories and highways). It is the question what’s the cause and what’s the effect, but all-in all, these are depressing figures. However, Majora Carter is able to cheer your up, she shows how to create a turning point.