Development Project Committed to Living Wages and Local Economy

CBA-diagram_without_final_555pxCBA_2The people of New York’s poorest borough fought for 20 years to ensure that redevelopment of its castle-like landmark will benefit those who live there. Will it be a gamechanger?  by Laura Flanders

Desiree Pilgrim-Hunter never dreamed she’d become an activist. “I was just a mom concerned about school overcrowding,” she says, until a neighbor invited her to a meeting of a local community organization, the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition (NWBCCC). “I was used to people complaining about what was missing in our community,” she recalls. “It was at NWBCCC that I first heard people talking about how to bring about solutions.”

Public schools in the Bronx were overflowing, she learned, because the population was growing. And although the shopping options in the area were multiplying, investment in public services like schools wasn’t keeping up.

When she joined the board of the Coalition in 2005 and discovered that the local armory was lying empty, Pilgrim-Hunter found herself engaged in a deep public process of imagining what might be brought in to fill the building: not another low-wage mall or a big box store to benefit some far-off owner, but a project that offered real opportunities for her children and her grandchildren; something that would lift the spirits and boost the economy of local people.

“We knew we didn’t need a mall,” she says. “More poverty wages in this, the poorest urban district in the country? Just to send another generation into poverty?”

This fall—more than a decade later—Hunter-Pilgrim gazed past the chain-link fence that still surrounds the block-long Kingsbridge Armory, and peered into what was once the National Guard Drill Hall. At 180,000 square feet, the cavernous room is big enough to contain a world of dreams—and right, now it’s holding hers. “What we need in the Bronx isn’t just jobs.  It’s a new economy,” she said.

“Our new economy: this is it. This is where it starts.”

Read full story in YES!

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