Fresh Kills landfill park, Staten Island
‘Fresh Kills’ was the largest landfill site in the US until it was decommissioned in 2001, after serving New York City for 60 years by burying a wetland on Staten Island. At almost three times the size of Central Park, its planned conversion into a public park was a significant undertaking for landscape architecture firm James Corner Field Operations (the practice also responsible for the High Line project). The design divides 2200 acres of capped landfill into 5 parks. A membrane under the topsoil traps methane gas generated by the rubbish – enough gas to heat 30,000 homes. This scheme is a great example of post-industrial (and post-domestic) land reimagined as public space.
The site visit didn’t quite pan out as planned, because I underestimated security, thinking that a landfill – by definition – would contain nothing worth guarding. How wrong I was. After taking a ferry, a bus and then hitchhiking down an expressway to get to the entrance, I was turned away by security guards.
Sign reads: "DO NOT ENTER - TRESPASSERS WILL BE PROSECUTED TO THE FULLEST EXTENT OF THE LAW"
In hindsight, the security was probably due to two things:
- The landfill contains debris from the 9/11 terror attacks. It is, in some sense, a mass grave.
- The methane processing plants are probably quite potentially explosive...
Interestingly, the design scheme proposes that:
"Old machinery and artifacts [sic] from Fresh Kills Landfill operations will act as outdoor sculptural pieces, and the old barges will be re-imagined as floating gardens."
It sounds like the landscape architects are treating the industrial context of the site in a similar manner to the teams that produced the Gas Works Park in Seattle and the Duisburg-Nord Landscape Park in western Germany. The history of the site is acknowledged rather than ignored.
Route taken from bus stop. Background image © Field Operations.