Freshkills Park

Once the world's largest landfill, Freshkills will be the largest park developed in New York in over 100 years. At 2,200 acres, the site is almost three times the size of Central Park. The full development is phased out over the next 30 years, and the 70 acres currently under construction are slated to open in 2013. The park will provide a wide range of recreational opportunities, including mountain biking and horseback riding trails, both of which are uncommon in the city. There are plans to restore wetlands and create native habitats, as well as establishing a native trees nursery.

I had a tour of Freshkills on early Sunday morning. It was mind-blowing to think that less than a decade ago, the site was the garbage dump for New York City. The Sanitation Department estimates that the average New Yorker generates 4 lbs of garbage a day. To put it in more graphic terms, the entire city generates enough garbage to fill the Empire State Building every single day. All that garbage has to go somewhere. We used to put it in the ocean until the Supreme Court put a stop to it in 1934. The park plan is therefore mission driven, a symbolic expression of our newfound ecological consciousness and renewal. All this comes with a hefty price tag of $1 million per acre, most of the expense invested in a highly engineered system to prevent waste and landfill gas from permeating the environment.

I like Freshkills' present iteration. It is a landscape in transition. There are sloping meadows with views of the Manhattan skyline. Natural wetlands and stormwater basins provide fertile habitats for wildlife. Ospreys, ring-necked pheasants, and red-tailed hawks are some of the birds that currently populate the site. Northern snapping turtles have been spotted. I wonder what it would be like if simply left to develop on its own. But we don't seem to have the luxury of letting the land be, at least not in the city. I am reminded of Gilles Clément's work and his dictum to leave the land alone, to relegate ourselves to the role of observing, something we don't do enough of. Seeing the site also reminds me to try to generate less garbage somehow.

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