Story Map: Histories of Environmental Health in the South Bronx

Oral History Mapping Project 2023

Design and Urban Ecologies - The New School, Parsons

This project is a series of oral histories map across the South Bronx and published online via Story Maps. It was developed in collaboration with Isabelle Groenewegen, and Rhaynae Lloyd. The audio map details the lived experiences of South Bronx resident and activists. We created this map as a means to add personal detail to the data and statistics that reflect the negative environmental health impacts of living in an area blighted by high air pollution and extremely high asthma rates.

The intention is for posters disseminated across the city to lead curious New Yorkers to our website, offering the opportunity for education on environmental racism from those experiencing it. We have created an oral history map, a polluting facilities map, a community resources map, and a page dedicated to direct actions listenes can take to engage with South Bronx based activists on tackling this issue.

Due to the history of city-level neglect of the South Bronx, many local residents have become grass roots advocates for the health of their community, expressed by the presence of organisations such as South Bronx Unite (SBU). SBU put up a strong battle against the placement of grocery delivery corporation Fresh Direct’s operations on 94 acres of public land in the South Bronx, financed in part by a $130 million dollar tax-payer subsidy. 

While there is a lot of data on how air pollution and other environmental issues affect the health of residents in the South Bronx, we rarely hear the stories behind the numbers.

How could we develop a design intervention that would raise awareness for this complex issue when so much has already been done by community activists?

Recognizing that it is the dehumanization of minoritized groups that allows for city and state-level neglect and disinvestment, we wanted to develop an oral history project that used storytelling to make the impacts of air pollution in the South Bronx more visible/audible.

South Bronx residents detail their personal experience of poor air quality and intersecting environmental injustices, conveying how these issues negatively affect their quality of life. The experience of community activists are also recorded to reflect the ongoing legacy of grass-roots action taken by residents to improve their own livelihoods in the face of neglect by government actors.

This project ultimately serves as an advocacy tool for communities who disappear behind data and statistics and as a recognition of the underrepresented grass-roots work community members have undertaken historically and now.

View Research + Methodology ︎︎︎

special thanks to: 

mychal johnson + leslie vasquez, sbu
siddarth motwani, bronx river alliance
nybg bronx green up

interviewees: leslie vasquez, andrew + luna, ammayra
alvarez-gorgurewicz, melinda figueroa, joann dicent,
anonymous nybg employee