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“Nobody should have to move out of their neighborhood to live in a better one.”
Majora Carter is an American urban revitalization strategist and broadcast producer/host from the South Bronx in New York. Her career has spanned environment, economy, social mobility, and real estate development. Her work has won major awards in each sector including a MacArthur ‘genius’ Grant, a Peabody Award, the Rudy Bruner Award Silver Medal, nine honorary doctorates, and accolades from various professional groups too many to mention here.
The quote, on the walls of the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture, is attributed to Majora. In fact, that’s just the opposite of what Majora was taught to do as a young woman growing up in the South Bronx. She believed, as she was taught to believe along with many others, that her only hope was to get out and abandon her neighborhood.
But she defied the norm and moved back to the very street she grew up on, bringing back with her what she had learned through her corporate consulting work. Her take on real estate and economic development is based on this understanding – that talent retention is key to building better neighborhoods.
Majora believes in talent retention. By placing higher quality third space enterprises for social gathering (cafes, bars and restaurants) ahead of the typical market curve, she believes that talented successful people who would ordinarily migrate out will stay, and keep their spending, reinvestment acumen and day to day example where they grew up. In a stagnant neighborhood , their only option is to flee, leaving communities in a constant talent deficit situation, that (again) makes the place a bargain for those who see value.
Majora is uncompromising about her mission. She lives and works in Hunts Point in the South Bronx, one of America’s lowest status communities just two blocks from the house she grew up in. And she is undaunted by taking new and necessary steps. When it became clear that no coffee shop operator wanted to operate out of her space in the neighborhood, she created her own business to achieve her goal. She’s committed to further developing the neighborhood where she lives and has her sights set on the conversion of a vacant building into a food hall. She lives in a brownstone, two blocks from the one she grew up in.
So listen. You must.
Insights and Inspirations
- Majora uses the term “low-status” to describe communities where the schools are worse, where there are more environmental burdens, where the air is more polluted, where there are fewer and less well-maintained parks and trees and where the local population’s health statistics are worse. While philanthropy and elected officials acknowledge these endless disparities, they do little to change them except to use them as campaign tools to get elected, raise money and congratulate themselves.
- South Bronx is one of the lowest-status neighborhoods in the country.
- Talent retention is key to stopping the typical, stagnant economic cycle of low-status communities.
- Billions go into low-status communities every year, but with little impact. You need to mix it up to lift a neighborhood up.
- Mixed income and mixed use are key to building stronger communities.
Information and Links
- See Majora’s unabridged bio here.
- This is Majora’s coffee shop, the Boogie Down Grind Cafe, which was featured in Edible Bronx.
- Read about the Self-Gentrification Salon.
Image courtesy of Majora Carter Group