Bronx economic development leaders are challenging its 12 educational campuses to not only develop creative climate-focused projects that address on-campus sustainability, but also establish wide-ranging efforts to address the borough’s environmental challenges.
The Bronx Green Action Challenge, developed by the Bronx Economic Development Corporation (BXEDC), will award up to $1 million to any Bronx-based college or university for sustainability projects that address the campus’ environmental footprint and climate issues such as energy production, waste management, food sourcing, green space, transportation and water quality.
Funding for the program is provided by the New York Power Authority.
Rob Walsh, BXEDC’s interim president, said that higher education is one of the borough’s strongest and fastest growing industries — with roughly 50,000 college students — and that many of the forward-looking climate ideas are coming from the borough’s campuses.
“I saw that faculty and students at these institutions are far ahead of the leadership when it comes to a consciousness about climate change and environmental sustainability and its simple issues such why don’t we have electric cars, and why are we not using solar panels,” said Walsh. “To asking about what the city is doing about food use and other environmental issues.”
Colleges will be given from July through October to submit projects, with a winner announced in November. Walsh, along with Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson, are encouraging colleges to work with the borough’s community groups to develop projects that work for campuses and surrounding neighborhoods.
Grassroots organizations like South Bronx Unite and The Point CDC have been at the forefront of Bronx environmental issues over the past few years. A New York City Environmental Justice Alliance 2021 report says poor air quality impacts more “low-income communities and communities of color due to historic discrimination in access to housing and racist land use planning.”
“We’re working to make the Bronx even better for residents, businesses and tourists, and the environment is key to a better borough. Our colleges and universities contribute to the vibrancy of our communities in many ways and with The Bronx Green Challenge we will help them do more for the environment too,” said Gibson.
From high asthma rates to flood risks that are among the highest in the nation, the Bronx is grappling with a variety of environmental issues of different magnitudes and scopes through the various corridors of the borough. Walsh told the Bronx Times that the development of these projects — through lobbying for implementation on a borough or statewide level — could be the basis for a green economy build out in the borough.
“It’s going to be about jobs, it’s going to be about tourism. It’s going to be about marketing and bringing together, in a coordinated way,” said Walsh. “And this is a way of us branding that the Bronx is a growing place. It’s about innovation, being creative, and connecting our college students and institutions with its surrounding communities.”
In their individual ways, each of the Bronx’s 12 education institutes have tackled systemic environmental issues through on-campus initiatives and off-campus partnerships.
On April 19, Fordham University marked the launch of a seven-year climate change plan, with a focus on a bottom-up strategy for dealing with climate change.
“We need to be able to listen to the people on the ground. The educated person knows how to take the formal education that they have, break it down, and make it accessible so that people on the ground can run with it,” said Julie Gafney, director of the Center for Community Engaged Learning at Fordham’s April 19 event.
Manhattan College has partnered with groups like The Association for Advancement in Sustainability for Higher Education for its climate directives and strategies. And earlier this year, CUNY and the New York Environmental Justice Alliance have developed plans for a NYC Climate Justice hub with funds from a $4 million grant, which includes the South Bronx community group Nos Quedamos.
Reach Robbie Sequeira at [email protected] or (718) 260-4599. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes