Jailee, OHNY’s program coordinator, recently took a trip to see Freshkills Park on Staten Island. Freshkills (the word kill deriving from the Dutch word for creek or body of water) is a former landfill that is now being converted into a park that will eventually be three times the size of Central Park (2,200 acres). It is still under construction and is not yet open to the public. In order to see it, you have to schedule a bus tour with the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation.

On the tour, two urban park rangers discussed the immense project of transforming a landfill, once the largest in the world, into a sustainable recreation site complete with soccer fields, basketball and handball courts, playgrounds, birdwatching platforms, a September 11th Memorial and all other general park amenities.

Established in 1948 by Robert Moses, the landfill was in operation until 2001. At its peak, the landfill took in 29,000 tons of garbage a day. It was, in fact, officially closed before the September 11th attacks and was reopened to accommodate the resulting wreckage and debris. The tour stopped on top of two of the mounds, the two that have all of their cap layers (see more about this below) and are safe for people to walk on. From on top of the mounds, you can see marvelous sweeping 360 degree landscapes.

While the scenery is undeniably pretty, industrial-looking buildings dot the park as a reminder of the fact that it is a landfill site. Buildings such as these provide services for the landfill. For example, there is a gas separation facility on-site that takes in the gases produced from the breakdown of garbage below. A significant amount of methane gas is separated out and then sold to the city for use.

Also dotting the park are gas release valves. You can make out one of the valves in the photo above. There is approximately one valve for each acre and ensure that gases are slowly released and do not build up in the ground layers below.

These gas valves will remain even as the park opens to the public as a means of extra security should their be a unanticipated build up of gas. However, they will be cut down so that they barely reach the surface of the ground.

The urban park rangers were very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the project. They explained the many layers that make up the landfill and the top layers that seal in the decomposing garbage and allow for safe soil layers on the top. In order for it to be useable as recreation space, all layers must be in place. To read more about capping the mounts, click here.

On the stop to the second mound, the tour group got a view of Manhattan in the far distance. Because each of the four mounds will settle as time passes, they are not suitable to support any heavy structures. The main buildings of the park will be built in a central area, off of the mounds, called the Confluence area.

All of the current structures existing in the park with remain and be incorporated into the final design including any pavement and buildings. The park also has every intention of keeping alive its landfill history. Much of the landfill equipment and materials will be saved and used eventually as exhibits in a museum.

On the way out of the park, the tour group got a close up view of the huge hydraulic excavators which will soon be used as large sign holders announcing the construction and opening of the park.

rendering of the excavators used for signage from the Freshkills website

Freshkills Park is a 30-year project. Some of the areas are slated to be opened in 2014, including the Owl Hollow soccer fields. The website provides extensive renderings to give you an idea of the scope of the project. The NYC Department of Parks and Recreation provides weekend tours of the park free of charge from April-November. It is a bit of a hike from Manhattan – you have to take the Staten Island ferry and then a bus, which is more of a 40-minute ride than the 20 minute ride detailed in the directions, but it is a great chance to see the amazing vision of a landfill being transformed into a wonderful green space for the public to enjoy.


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