Will it be impossible for environmentalists and a Trump administration to find common ground? Maybe not. Some argue that one way the environmental movement can still advance its agenda is by finding areas where economic development goals overlap with environmental ones. Public radio host and urban revitalization strategist Majora Carter, who’s done community development work in the South Bronx, explained to us what that might look like.
The Allegheny Front: So during his victory speech, Donald Trump actually mentioned the importance of rebuilding both the country’s infrastructure and its inner cities. So if you were tapped to be an adviser to President-elect Trump, what would you say to him about encouraging more investment in those areas?
Majora Carter: If I were an adviser, I would help him draw on his experiences as a real estate developer that used other people’s money to create the visions of his dreams. And I think he could apply that acumen to helping restore low-status communities in ways that actually create health and well-being—economically and otherwise. And I would also help him understand that there needs to be some dedicated work in investing in minority and women-owned businesses to help do some of that work.
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AF: Trump has also pledged to do away with many environmental regulations. And there are indications that there will be changes coming at the Environmental Protection Agency as well. How would these changes impact urban communities that are already being affected by climate change and other environmental problems?
MC: What I hope is that instead of environmentalists just beating the environmentalist drum, we see an economic opportunity in helping to make American cities and our communities more resilient as the climate changes. We can use that to create jobs and develop infrastructure, which means Americans have to do that work.
AF: In the work you do, how big an impact does a president have versus state and local governments?
MC: Interestingly enough, I got my start during the George W. Bush administration, where there was a particularly hostile approach to environmental work. And I got a lot of work done because we focused on building alliances and relationships with all sorts of sectors—business and government and the community. And when we took that kind of approach, we were actually able to get things done. So I think, as always, working on the local level is what’s going to get stuff done, and that’s regardless of who the president is. Of course, we want to make sure there are policies and incentives coming down the pike to secure the kind of development that we want to see happening. But it’s not going to stop progress.
AF: You alluded to the fact that there are some people who aren’t really comfortable with the usual approaches or politics or language of the environmental movement. So how can people who are working on environmental or revitalization issues help bridge that gap?
MC: I think the most important thing is to focus on what other folks express the most interest in. If you’re going to try to convince somebody of something, you have to look at the way they view the world and respond in that way. Right now, it is the economy and economics that people are concerned about. And I think the best thing in the world is for folks that are working in sustainability or environmental fields to be talking about how we can create models and opportunities for regular folks to see their lives getting better as we work to improve the environment. And give them real specifics. Like, it would be so cool if there was a green infrastructure national agenda that created jobs along the way. [People] would be psyched about that everywhere—red and blue states. They’d be like, ‘Really? Jobs coming here? What do I need to do to get them?’
AF: And what’s your hope about what could happen over the next four years?
MC: My hope is that we can find a way to work with our president and our president actually decides to work as a president of all of us, unite us and give us all something we can be very proud of. I still believe in the promise of America. And I’m very open to do my part to make sure that happens.
MacArthur fellow and award-winning radio host Majora Carter is an urban revitalization strategist in the South Bronx.