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The “Real Work”: Revitalizing the Bronx River

July 23, 2012Patrick NunnallyFormer Featured Posts, Program & AnnouncementsComments Off on The “Real Work”: Revitalizing the Bronx River

Swimming at Hunts Point Riverside Park. Image used courtesy of MajoraCarterGroup (

One of my favorite poems by Gary Snyder is “I Went Into the Maverick Bar,” which ends,

We left—onto the freeway shoulders—
under the tough old stars—
In the shadow of bluffs
I came back to myself,
To the real work, to
“What is to be done.”

“What is to be done” echoes an essay by Lenin, but to me the phrase sticks in my mind as a reminder that we don’t always know “what is to be done,” what the next steps should be in a complex, important undertaking.  Or sometimes we don’t even know what we should do at all, but are simply bewildered by the possibilities that face us and the urgency of the needs we face.And of course “the real work” is in itself an enormously complex phrase and idea.  How many of us feel that we know our “real” work, as opposed to the “busyness” with which we occupy our time?As an antidote to this confusion, I offer you this article from The New York Times last week.  In it, architecture critic Michael Kimmelman explores the recent revitalization of the Bronx River and with it, parts of the South Bronx, once one of the most forbidding urban landscapes in the United States.“Revitalization” is a word chosen deliberately, over the more common “restoration,” or even “sustainability” as applied to urban rivers.  To revitalize is to bring life back, to infuse with energy and forcefulness, to resurrect.  An apt verb for urban rivers, certainly.

But “revitalize” is also an appropriate word for urban neighborhoods, for urban youth (and elders, for that matter), indeed, for the whole complex “urban ecology” of human systems, water, riverside landscapes, terrestrial habitat—indeed, all that lives on, in, alongside, and as a result of, urban rivers.

To revitalize urban rivers and the lives that they contain and that the rivers themselves revitalize:  that’s the “real work.”  Read the article; watch the video; read the comments (how often these days are you actually encouraged to read online comments?) and know this:  if the Bronx River can be revitalized, then so can yours.

To learn more about the origins of efforts to revitalize the Bronx River as an eco-justice effort, watch this presentation by Majora Carter, who has become nationally known for her work with people from all walks of life and the places they care about.  Her talk was part of the “Momentum” series developed by the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota.  The whole talk is dynamic and powerful, but if you want to skip ahead to the “river part,” you’ll find it at about 7:00.

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