In New York City – Fresh Kills Park is Waste Space, Play Place

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The NYC Sanitation Department donated one of these machines for use in the new park's signage. Photo by author.

For over 50 years Fresh Kills was the main landfill for New York City and  the largest dumpsite in the world.  In March of 2001 the site was closed due to pressure from the Environmental Protection Agency, only to be reopened temporarily in September of that year as the receiving site for the demolished World Trade Center buildings.   Now the land, once a symbol of waste and environmental disrespect, is being re-developed as the largest park in New York City—at 2,220 acres it will be almost three times the size of Central Park.  The site will be extensively landscaped with native vegetation and will provide natural ecological areas as well as space designed for a range of recreational activities such as mountain biking, trail running, kayaking, and horseback riding.  The park will also be home to multiple renewable energy sites (photovoltaic, wind turbines, and geothermal), plus playing fields and playgrounds.  The master plan was done by Field Operations. In keeping with the sustainable agenda, the park will be accessible by public transit.

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Methane gas from the old landfill provides fuel for energy generation and revenue for the municipality. Photo by author.

I had a chance to visit the site last week with the NYC Planning Department, and was surprised to find that the landscape is quite dramatic.  Three “mounds” (gigantic hills of garbage) define the main topography. Elevated to approximately 500 feet, the hills offer picturesque views of preservation wetlands and bird habitats, the Manhattan skyline, New Jersey industrial lands and Staten Island suburbs.  The extensive landfill-capping process is still underway, with the first phase scheduled to be completed in 2010, with full build-out in 2030.  The technology for sealing off the garbage is quite complex, and produces two interesting byproducts. First, “leachate”, equivalent to the wet sludge at the bottom of your trash can, is siphoned off the bottom through piping. This allows the water to be purified and returned to the river instead of remaining contained with pollutants.   Second, methane gas is captured, pumped, processed and sold to the energy grid, generating about $11 million in revenue annually to New York City.

Suburbia stretches out in the distance from Fresh Kills. Photo by author.

Suburbia stretches out in the distance from Fresh Kills. Photo by author.

Initiated in 2004, the Fresh Kills project is the product of unprecedented relationships between the city’s Parks, Planning, and Sanitation departments as well as an extensive public engagement process.  Although Fresh Kills is a visionary example of urban adaptive reuse, the city has been unsuccessful in dealing with their waste in a more sustainable manner.  Since Fresh Kills Landfill was closed in 2001, each borough has been sending its trash south (by diesel truck) to other states such as West Virginia, and even as far as South Carolina.   The Fresh Kills park is going to be an amazing place, but it will be truly amazing when New York does something about reducing or locally processing its 12,000 tons of daily residential waste.

A slideshow of more photos can be found here: [flickr album=72157622490120165 num=10 size=Square]

Also, check out more information and renderings on the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation’s Freshkills Park website here.

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4 Responses to “In New York City – Fresh Kills Park is Waste Space, Play Place”

  1. Freshkillspark said:

    Jul 31, 09 at 7:05 am

    Stacy, thanks for the great post! A few corrections: the site was closed not, to our knowledge, due to pressure from the EPA but in response to public and political advocacy for its closure, and in compliance with accepted federal standards for landfill closure. There are four landfill mounds, and they’re between 100 and 220 feet tall. Two of the mounds have been capped and closed already; the other two are now undergoing capping and closure. The project really got underway in 2001, with an international design competition led by the Department of City Planning and the Municipal Arts Society; after several years of planning, the Parks Department assumed responsibility for implementation in 2006. The first sections of the park will open within the next couple of years.

  2. nik said:

    Jul 31, 09 at 9:56 pm

    I am so impressed I had to save it so I continously go back and read things I may have skimmed

  3. Daniella said:

    Aug 04, 09 at 4:36 pm

    Great pictures, Stacy!

  4. stacy said:

    Oct 06, 09 at 8:54 pm

    Thanks for the corrections Freshkillspark!