Get a sneak peek at Staten Island’s Freshkills Park (video)

Find out what the enormous landfill will offer once it's turned into a healthy green space for New Yorkers, and what it will take to get it there.

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Freshkills Park

Freshkills Park Photograph: Courtesy NYC Parks

Throughout the centuries, humanity has wrestled with the question of what to do with its copious amounts of waste. When throwing trash on the ground proved unsustainable, we started setting it on fire and dumping it into the ocean. When smog and dead dolphins made some do-gooders question those solutions, people tried brainstorming affordable ways to shoot it into the sun. (And quietly continued building garbage islands in the Pacific, and turning China's sky an opaque shade of yellow.)


Eventually, some genius came around to the idea of harnessing the energy created as waste degrades and reclaiming it as methane. The landfill at Freshkills, for decades the largest disgusting trash pile in the five boroughs, was closed in 2001. But rather than just let the smell of decaying filth waft into our open windows indefinitely to no purpose, the city took steps to make sure that putrid stench helped build something beautiful: Freshkills Park.


The 2,200-acre expanse is being reclaimed in a surprisingly long-view project, proof that we might not be doomed to drown in our own milkshake-stained refuse after all. On September 23, Freshkills administrator Eloise Hirsh will join lead park designer James Corner for a talk called “Transforming Fresh Kills, Staten Island,” part of the Beyond the High Line series.  


Although the land revitalization (which will one day be three times the size of Central Park) is a long way from being fully realized, the methane harvesting already nets the city around $12 million in savings. (The New York Times helpfully illustrates the process.) On September 29, Hirsh will be on hand for the department’s annual “sneak peek” at Freshkills Park, which serves as a regular progress report for New York City's ecological future. With the technology for economically viable, intergalactic trash missiles nowhere in sight, the success of urban-reclamation projects like Freshkills Park is more important than ever.


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