Creating Green Spaces from Landfill – The New Utopia?

I have been accused of being earnest and an idealist. The implication being I’m some sort of shiny-eyed optimist who believes we can mitigate humanities ravages of the planet by making everyone plant milkweed for butterflies. But I promise, get a few beers in me and I’ll happily launch into a dark rant about the genocidal and suicidal leanings of humanity. No animal on earth is better built for self-destruction than us. But, focusing on oblivion is not a healthy use of this sensitive Pisces’ time. And now, with Niko in the mix, it would be downright selfish. Seriously, only an asshole would bring a kid into the world without focusing on, and trying to create, tools for a sustainable tomorrow.   Because I own a home in environmentally challenged Los Angeles, I tend to focus large and small scale projects that have the ability to radically impact our overall quality of life, promote biodiversity and rebuild greenspace wherever possilible.  So logically, I’m thinking of Staten Island…

For decades, Staten Island had been the brunt of most New Yorkers’ “bridge and tunnel” one-liners. Or, at least, they’ve split the burden with New Jersey. But the unfolding of a massive park in Staten Island is likely to blow all those old perceptions away.

Proposal Image from Field Operations' PDF, printed in Smithsonian Magazine, 2012
Proposal Image from Field Operations’ PDF, printed in Smithsonian Magazine, 2012

This excellent article in Smithsonian Magazine from 2012 describes the work going on to transform the Freshkills 2,200 acre landfill into a park the same size, making it more than 3 times bigger than Central Park. Until it was closed in 2001, Fresh Kills was the biggest dump IN THE WORLD, and Staten Island suffered physically and psychologically from importing the rest of the 5 boroughs’ trash. Then, the idea to transform the landfill was born, and so a bold new life is being breathed into Staten Island.  Yes, we’re talking about a park on a dump. That’s right, today’s utopia will be wrought from our own garbage.

Fresh-Kills Cap and Reclamation image- Smithsonian Magazine
Fresh-Kills Cap and Reclamation image- Smithsonian Magazine

The diagram above shows the basic design for reclaiming the dump and making it safe for people.  This excellent little movie from the New York Times breaks it down quickly, including the park’s tough history as a notorious landfill.  The gist is this: Whereas Staten Island was once 40% industrial or vacant, with the completion of the Freshkills Park, Staten Island will be 75% nature, recreation and residential programs,  as cited in Robert Cormer’s Field Operations (a critical part of the team that brought you The High Line) very readable competition proposal.

Ok, I’m not going to write a big piece on this, read the  Smithsonian piece above.  But just remember that when I get all rosy-eyed and optimistic and start talking about a future I’m happy to send my daughter off into, I’m aware that a large part of it might be made from mountains of crap.

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