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Upper School Students Learn True Cost of Convenience

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Having groceries delivered to your doorstop is a time-saver for many busy families. But, as students learned during last Friday’s Upper School assembly, this convenience comes at a cost.

At the assembly, guest speaker Mychal Johnson, co-founder of South Bronx Unite, explained to Manhattan Country School’s fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth-graders why he and his organization are fighting the proposed relocation of grocery delivery service Fresh Direct to the South Bronx. This area of New York City is home to several fossil fuel plants, a waste transfer station, a sewage treatment facility, a FedEx hub and a printing and distribution center for The Wall Street Journal and New York Post. What’s more, four major highways cut through this area, carrying commercial and other traffic in and out of Manhattan. The addition of a Fresh Direct facility would add an estimated 1,000 truck trips every day.

Mychal says the diesel fumes emitted from the trucks in the area have a detrimental impact on the local air quality and residents’ health. The region has one of the highest asthma rates in the country. In fact, one in four children has the disease and the rates of hospitalization and death are three and five times higher, respectively, than the national average.

Mychal says it's no coincidence that companies like Fresh Direct are seeking out low-income areas like the South Bronx. “The Bronx has always been looked at as a less desirable place to live,” he says. He adds that the practice of disproportionately locating polluting industries in primarily black and Latino communities, such as the South Bronx, is environmental racism.

As Mychal showed a map of the South Bronx and Fresh Direct’s development site, the students could see that the location isn’t very far from where they go to school. Drawing on their knowledge about sustainability and environmental issues, they posed insightful questions to Mychal about why this is happening, the implications of this effort and what can be done about it. Mychal shared that since South Bronx Unite was formed in 2012 the group has taken a multi-pronged approach to fighting the development, including testifying at public hearings, holding protests at the development site, lobbying elected officials and filing lawsuits.

Mychal’s organization believes the South Bronx community would be better served if the land earmarked for the Fresh Direct project were developed into a public green space. “The Bronx is the greenest borough in New York City, but the South Bronx has the least amount of green space per capita,” says Mychal. The group’s proposed Mott Haven-Port Morris Waterfront Plan proposes the creation of parks, boat hubs, a restored gantry and a waterfront trail.

“We aren’t saying development is bad,” says Mychal. “We’re saying, 'be smart about it'…so our community can breathe.”