South Bronx Unite brings together neighborhood residents, community organizations, academic institutions, and allies to improve and protect the social, environmental, and economic future of Mott Haven and Port Morris. We envision a South Bronx where everyone is thriving because we have equitable access to clean air, nutritious food, truly affordable and quality housing, good health care, resources to advance our contributions to arts and culture, community centers, open green spaces, good schools with adequate resources, jobs with livable wages, a transformative justice approach to public safety, and participatory decision-making for public policies and community development.
Environmental Justice Leader Spotlight
Mychal is a community-based advocate for environmental, economic and social justice in the South Bronx. He is a co-founder of South Bronx Unite and a founding member of the Mott Haven-Port Morris Community Land Stewards, where is also a board member.
He serves on the board of directors of the NYC Community Land Initiative (NYCCLI), the Bronx Council for Environmental Quality, and the Community Advisory Board of Columbia University’s NIEHS Center for Environmental Health in Northern Manhattan. Mychal was also appointed as a civil society voting member of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Open Space Committee. He has been a member of Bronx Community Board 1 and was notably selected by the United Nations to serve as one of 38 global civil society appointees to the historic UN Climate Summit in 2014.
He is a long-time activist organizing for greater access to open green space, truly affordable housing, a healthier quality of life, and community-focused development that supports rather than displaces neighborhood residents.
Arif is a social and environmental justice advocate, grassroots urban planner, and community activist with more than 20 years of experience in designing and managing community development programs, establishing diverse alliances, and co-creating campaign strategies around local, state, and national issues.
Prior to joining South Bronx Unite, Arif was Director of Programs at Citizens Committee for New York City where he and his team supported hundreds of grassroots groups every year in their self-determined efforts to improve the quality of life in under-resourced neighborhoods across NYC. Before that, he worked as an immigrants’ rights advocate with American Friends Service Committee where he helped establish a local alliance of immigrant advocates, contributed to a national campaign for immigration reform, and designed and led workshops on community organizing. He is a co-founder of Bangladeshi Americans for Political Progress, a steering committee member of Queens Climate Project, and a core member of Malcolm X Community Garden. He has been on the boards of ioby, Farm School NYC, and NY Immigration Coalition. Arif graduated from Hunter College and has a Master’s in Public Policy from Duke University. In his free time, he grows food and keeps honeybees at his community garden.
Arif believes in the power of frontline communities and he is committed to building systems that support their health, creativity, wisdom, and leadership.
Why is South Bronx Unite excited for WE ACT’s Justice40rward Community Tour to come to your community?
We are very excited for this tour because it is sure to be an opportunity to learn and feel a great deal, both richly-informative and emotionally-compelling.
What are 3 projects you are working on with our community?
- A list of our work can be found here
Community Solutions Snapshots – South Bronx Unite
South Bronx Unite (SBU) is working to address the egregious air quality emergency in the South Bronx – widely referred to as “Asthma Alley” given that the South Bronx has among the highest asthma rates in the country – by advocating for community waterfront access. SBU’s Mott Haven Port Morris Waterfront Plan consists of eight interconnected green spaces on a 96-acre plot of public waterfront land located in an increasingly risky flood zone. This valuable NYS Department of Transportation land is leased to Harlem River Yard Ventures, which is subleasing it to a number of fossil-fuel intensive businesses, from last-mile warehouses to peak power plants to waste transfer facilities. In other words, public land is being leased to a private corporation that is reaping enormous profits at the catastrophic expense of the community’s health and well-being. Our Waterfront Plan would fight the contamination of precious community land, water, and air by mitigating air pollution and creating a first line of defense against storm surges and floods, which are growing more frequent as a result of climate change. Our Plan was prioritized by the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation. We now need political will and funding to realize our community’s vision for open green space on our waterfront. Link to more info.
HEArts Community Center
In 2013, South Bronx Unite and our partner organization, the Mott Haven Port Morris Community Land Stewards, began conducting a community engagement process to re-imagine a local, abandoned city-owned building. We organized dozens of community visioning sessions and events throughout Mott Haven. Hundreds of residents gave input; what repeatedly rose to the top as priorities were health (H), education (E), and the arts (Arts), thus birthing the idea of HEArts Community Center. With widespread community support and a deeply experienced team, including a mission-oriented developer, architecture firms, an urban planning organization, and consultants, we responded to the city’s RFP for the building, submitting our application on January 12, 2023. We look forward to transforming the building into a community space focused on the themes identified by area residents. The HEArts Center will serve as a beacon in a community that has endured a long list of gross inequities and injustices over many decades. It will house organizations that provide programming ranging from holistic health services and green workforce development trainings to music performances and art exhibitions, creating opportunities for community members to realize their potential and achieve a better quality of life. Link to more info.
Recognizing that data strengthens advocacy, South Bronx Unite has been partnering with Columbia University to document air and noise pollution in Mott Haven and Port Morris, an area that has the highest rate of air pollution in the City; this has resulted in illnesses ranging from asthma and heart disease to cognitive impairment and dementia. In one research partnership, we evaluated the impact of Fresh Direct’s relocation to the South Bronx. What our community received in exchange for the $130 million in taxpayer subsidies given to Fresh Direct for the move was 1,000 additional daily truck trips, exacerbating our disproportionate pollution-burden. Traffic-related noise also increased. As part of this partnership, we are teaching local middle and high school students how to build air and noise quality monitors, as well as how to collect, analyze, and visualize that data. In the process, they not only learn hard science and technology skills, but become more involved in the well-being of their community.
We are expanding our air quality monitoring work with a recent grant from the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation through which we are purchasing and installing research grade air quality monitors across the neighborhood. This will allow us to capture, for the first time, robust data on street level/breathing level air quality over a period of several years. All of the data collected through our research projects are being/will be analyzed, translated, and presented in compelling narratives, maps, and graphics to support our efforts to reduce air pollution and increase open green space. Link to more info.
South Bronx Unite also partnered with Columbia to research the urban heat island effect in the area; data collected through this project, primarily by local residents, shows that the temperature in the South Bronx is higher than most NYC neighborhoods on the hottest days of the summer. This is especially alarming considering that there will be more dangerously hot days as climate change progresses, which will worsen existing pollution-related illnesses and lead to more deaths. Link to more info.
Community Land Trust
The South Bronx, which sits on Lenape land, has been profoundly impacted by decades of environmental injustice and economic neglect. At the moment, the Mott Haven-Port Morris neighborhood is undergoing a wave of unprecedented real estate speculation threatening mass displacement. Despite a local average median income of $26,000, where 49% of our children live in poverty, thousands of new market rate units are currently under construction touting indoor pools and luxury amenities. Decisions about the land on which we live, in which we work, where we raise our children, are made for us by those not invested in the health of the land or the people who call it home.
In response, and in partnership with the wider South Bronx community, we established the Mott Haven Port Morris Community Land Stewards to acquire land for public use and to hold it in perpetuity. We seek to ensure that community members preserve a stake in our neighborhood and promote pathways to meaningful self-determination for our community. To that end, we work to create and steward physical space for cultural, social, artistic, educational, and recreational opportunities that improve the quality of life in the area. Link to more info.