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Thread: New York's Newest Parkland - Fresh Kills

  1. #31
    Chief Antagonist Ninjahedge's Avatar
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    Sep 2003


    I wonder how many were "lost" in the pockets of the recovery teams and the original shippers before the ship even sank...

  2. #32
    NYC Aficionado from Oz Merry's Avatar
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    Oct 2002


    No Dumping on Fresh Kills


    The Urban Gardner endeavors to keep readers abreast of a wide variety of topics, among them the arts (including the culinary arts), politics, society, science, nature, and even occasionally, gardening. But one area where I frankly admit I've dropped the ball is travel. There simply haven't been enough stories on voyage to exotic locales. So I hope to remedy that by writing about kayaking Fresh Kills.

    If the place rings a bell, that's because from 1947 until it closed a decade ago, Fresh Kills was the one of the world's largest landfills. Indeed, if you've lived in New York City long enough and knew where to dig, chances are you could find memorabilia, both organic and inorganic, dating back to your infancy buried deep beneath its 150-foot hills. They're known as the North, East, South, and West Mounds.

    The fate of the detritus was just one of the borderline mystical thoughts I entertained Monday afternoon when I reported to Fresh Kills, on Staten Island, to go kayaking there with Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe. To be honest, I wasn't expecting the commissioner, who was donning sunscreen and waiting to hit the water. And I hadn't put two and two together that the Fresh Kills I'd been invited to go boating on was the landfill. I thought it was someplace nearby with the same Dutch-sounding name.

    While it may be hard to wrap your arms around, and even harder to get excited enough to plan an outing, the city is in the process of transforming the former dump into a park that—at 2,200 acres—will be almost three times the size of Central Park. Of course, it won't be mistaken for its storied Manhattan sibling anytime soon. While the city has great hopes for the land, which it plans to build in phases over the next 30 years (among them as a destination for mountain-biking, trail-running, and horseback-riding), the mounds that comprise the park are so far dotted not with fountains, such as the Bethesda Fountain, but with well-heads to collect the decomposing gases, and treatment plants where something called leachate is rendered harmless and released into Arthur Kill.

    A bumper sticker on the back of Mr. Benepe's black city-issued SUV asks "Got Frederick Law Olmsted?" The answer, in regards to Fresh Kills, is, not quite yet. Having said that, I failed to detect any odors that recalled the landfill's hard-working past. Indeed, as the commissioner and I transported our kayak into Main Creek, he could be forgiven for conjuring up Cape Cod, where his family spends their summer vacation, or at least someplace far from the hustle and bustle of New York City.

    "It's better than Jamaica Bay—you don't see the city," the commissioner explained, as he surveyed the bucolic landscape while we paddled out and sucked in the air, though perhaps not too deeply. (With our launch, Mr. Benepe was also marking a milestone: Fresh Kills made Staten Island the fifth and final borough he'd either kayaked or canoed.)
    "This is as quiet as it gets in New York City—the distant sound of song sparrows, the paddles in the water," he mused as we passed under an osprey nest where a mother guarded her young.

    Our afternoon had started by climbing, fortunately in Parks Department vehicles, to the summit of the South Mound, where you could barely make out the Manhattan skyline through the haze and 90-degree heat. That's also where Carrie Grassi, Fresh Kills' enthusiastic outreach and land use manager, gave me a tutorial on the gray arts of decomposition, liquid byproducts, and containment walls. The way the system works is that the waste mountain is capped with a plastic liner that prevents everything from the carcass of your 1998 Thanksgiving turkey, to all those back issues of Playboy you threw out in the Eighties and now wished you'd kept (though somebody probably rescued them), from leaching into the surrounding environment.

    Then additional layers of highly-engineered soil, rock, and drainage conduits, culminating in several inches of high-quality planting soil, are spread over the plastic. The final step in the process is an invitation to our citizenry, wildlife, and native plant species to partake of the panorama. The wildlife and plants have already responded to their invitation; the public will have to wait a while longer. The park is not yet open, except in twice-weekly bus tours, and occasional kayaking and birding trips. There's also an annual October event called "Sneak Peak" and which last year attracted 2,000 curiosity-seekers.

    I wondered who would schlep to Staten Island for a "festival," as Ms. Grassi described it, at a former landfill. Staten Islanders, that's who. "It's interesting how emotional some people get," she observed. "They see green, see beauty, see quiet; they lived with this burden all these years. It doesn't have to be a burden for the people of Staten Island anymore."

    I was also careful as we kayaked out into Main Creek, between the grass-covered North and East Mounds, not to dip my hand into the water—despite Mr. Benepe's coaching that if I plunged my paddle at a steeper angle, we'd make better progress. Call me a sissy, but I was concerned that if my hand came in contact with the creek, it might emerge as skeletal remains, or I'd at least get a rash. Ms. Grassi had earlier informed me that the water is classified "secondary contact," meaning that it's "safe for boating."

    Nonetheless, if the varieties of waterfowl we encountered are any indication, as we paddled up the creek and maneuvered in and out of the high Spartina grass inlets, the waterway and the surrounding park are well on their way to recovery. Ms. Grassi is even thinking of bringing in goats. "We want to have goats do vegetation management," she explained. Apparently the Norman J. Levy Park and Preserve, the former landfill in Merrick, Long Island, successfully introduced Nigerian Dwarf goats. And the dream doesn't stop there. Think of it, Ms. Grassi went on, "Fresh Kills goat cheese! Fresh Kills yarn!"

    It sounds great. But for the moment I'll keep getting my goat cheese from Vermont.

  3. #33

  4. #34


    The Fresh kills pics and write up are amazing! I lived in SI for about 10 yrs leaving just as the dump closed about 10 yrs ago. The difference between what you posted, and what I recall is just astounding. I am glad to see it.

  5. #35


    From Wikipedia:

    After the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, Fresh Kills was temporarily in use as a sorting ground for roughly one third of the rubble from Ground Zero. More than 1600 personal effects were retrieved during this time. About two million tons of material obtained from Ground Zero was taken to the landfill for sorting. Thousands of detectives and forensic evidence specialists worked for over 1.7 million hours at Fresh Kills Landfill to try to recover remnants of the people killed in the attacks. A final count of 4,257 human remains were recovered, and from those, 300 people were identified. A memorial is being built to honor those that were not able to be identified in all of the debris from the attack. The remaining debris was buried in a 40-acre (160,000 m2) portion of the landfill; it is highly likely that this debris still contains fragmentary human remains.
    I have nothing on this issue at the moment.

  6. #36
    NYC Aficionado from Oz Merry's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2002


    Staten Island Landfill Park Proves Savior in Hurricane



    During Hurricane Sandy, the Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island absorbed a critical part of the storm surge. Its hills and waterways spared nearby neighborhoods like Travis, Bulls Head, New Springville and Arden Heights much worse flooding. The 2,200-acre site, which closed a decade ago and is being turned into a park, was also temporarily reopened as a transfer station, helping officials and relief agencies clear debris from around the city.

    If many New Yorkers, Staten Islanders included, still can’t help thinking of the place as a mountain range of stinking trash, that’s understandable. But since its closing, Fresh Kills has become a model for landfill reclamation around the world, having been transformed into a vast green space full of wildlife. Now it is also demonstrating the role of wetland buffers in battling rising waters.

    Maybe this will help push officials to ready what is known as Freshkills Park for visitors. James Corner, the landscape architect who helped design the High Line and heads the firm Field Operations, won a competition years ago to transform the site and imagined a decades-long, evolving earthwork of different grasses, grown, cut and replanted, creating a rich new soil and landscape.

    It’s a visionary plan. But regulatory and financial hurdles, along with the usual bureaucratic conflicts, have stalled progress. The state environmental agency wants to make sure the site is safe, which makes sense. At the same time, the price tag — by some estimates, hundreds of millions of dollars — has clearly daunted city leaders and led officials to pursue a piecemeal transformation that could undo Mr. Corner’s concept.

    Considering the unconscionable $4 billion (or more) that is being squandered on a new PATH station at the World Trade Center site for perhaps 50,000 commuters, the cost of Fresh Kills doesn’t sound quite so crazy. Now there’s word that the Metropolitan Transit Authority may need to spend $600 million to restore the South Ferry subway station, which opened just in 2009 and was flooded by the storm. It’s hard to say which is more scandalous, that the authority’s planners hadn’t anticipated flooding at a station on the water’s edge, or that subway fare increases will partly go to pay for their shortsightedness.

    By comparison, Fresh Kills has come out smelling like roses.

    I recently paid a visit and shot a video of the site with my colleague David Frank and Eloise Hirsh, administrator of Freshkills Park for the New York City Parks Department. No wonder Mr. Corner discovered such potential in what has become a timely research post for climate change and ecological restoration. Once it is opened to the public, the park also promises to repay long-suffering Staten Island residents who endured generations of stench and anger, and more than that, to give the entire city an immense, bucolic urban playland — a 21st-century postindustrial landmark rising from mounds of 20th-century waste.

    Who knows? In its shift from blight to boon, it could become a park as unexpected and transformative for the city as the High Line.

  7. #37

  8. #38
    NYC Aficionado from Oz Merry's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2002


    From Trash to Trails: A Boat Tour to Freshkills Park on Staten Island

    by Catherine Mondkar

    Remember that colossal landfill on Staten Island that held millions of tons of New York’s garbage? That once stinking, seagull infested dump, aka the Freshkills landfill which gave Staten Island an unfortunate identity for over half a century, is now on its way to becoming the largest park developed in New York City in over 100 years. Spanning over 2,200 acres, Freshkills Park will be three times the size of Central Park upon completion! Untapped Cities had the opportunity of joining AIANY aboard the classic harbor line yacht ‘Manhattan’ for one of their Archtober tours, meandering through the narrow creeks (or Kills as they call it in Dutch) within this already picturesque landscape.

    (Top) The Freshkills landfill, in 1990. Photo: Stephen Ferry via NYMag.
    (Bottom) Rendering of Freshkills Park, courtesy: James Corner Field Operations and NYC Parks Department

    The (almost) four hour tour, hosted by Arthur Platt of AIANY and Carrie Grassi of the Office for Recovery and Resiliency, transported us from the dense urban forest of lower Manhattan into the soft riparian edge of Staten Island and back. Beginning at Chelsea Piers, our yacht swooped past the old and new towers of lower Manhattan, the Statue of Liberty and Governors island, before making its way into the heart of Freshkills Park via Arthur Kill and Kill Van Kull.

    The route of our boat ride aboard the stylish yacht Manhattan.

    Throughout the expedition, our hosts guided us along a fascinating path of history, heartache and success of the former landfill, as we followed the same route taken by barges that once carried 29,000 tons of refuse daily. The creation of Freshkills landfill is a true testament to the common belief prevailing through the mid- 20th century that wetland areas fostered pestilence, disease, and criminal behavior; and a common remedy for improving this (otherwise ecologically rich and beneficial) land was to fill and bury it in refuse!

    So it’s no surprise, that in 1948, Robert Moses chose this vast landscape to temporarily absorb NYC’s garbage. Moses’ vision to “reclaim” the land, involved covering it with garbage for three years to establish a solid raised grade in order to eventually construct coastal parks and residential areas. Alas, three years turned into fifty-three years and Freshkills soon became the largest landfill in the world. With undulating hills of trash rising 200 feet high, devoid of coastal parks and residential areas, Freshkills was instead surrounded by angry and resentful Staten Islanders whose backyard had literally become the city’s dumping ground.
    Cruising through the Upper Bay, our eyes wandered around an array of neighborhoods along Brooklyn’s waterfront, port of Bayonne and the northern shores of Staten Island which will soon be boasting of the world’s tallest observation wheel. In the distance, the Verrezano Narrows Bridge formed an elegant gateway for all vessels into New York Harbor.

    The coastal edges along the 3-mile stretch of Kill Van Kull are dominated by the active industrial infrastructure in Bayonne and their decaying precursors, across the channel, along Staten Island’s Port Richmond Avenue. Although these once thriving industries are long gone, the historic Caddell dry docks still provides service to marine vessels, including South Street Seaport’s three historic ships; Peking, Wavertree and the lightship Ambrose.

    Bringing us back to the history of Freshkills, Grassi explained that following its closure as a landfill in 2001 (with 30 more years of landfill capacity remaining), the city embarked upon an international design competition to imagine ways in which this valuable land could be used. The winning proposal from James Corner Field Operations outlined a strategy spanning three decades, to transform the former landfill into New York’s newest park. Through the rare pairing of natural and engineered landscapes, including creeks, wetlands and expansive meadows, Freshkills Park will not only offer an array of recreational opportunities, but also provide educational programming, diverse habitats for wildlife and ecological restoration.

    As the enchanted crowd was absorbing the flurry of information, we passed by a barge carrying what could have been mistaken for garbage of all things! Turns out, it was filled with bundles of paper and boxes that New Yorker’s diligently recycle every day–on its way to be transformed into pizza boxes at the Pratt recycling plant located right at the tip of Freshkills Park.

    Since 2006, NYC Parks and the Sanitation department have assumed responsibility for implementing the project using James Corner’s master plan as a conceptual guide. The site is being developed from the outside in so that the communities living at its edges, will be able to enjoy the benefits of the new park sooner. An important aspect which sets James Corner’s design apart from others, is his incorporation of various sustainable features, including geothermal heating and cooling, wind farms and the city’s largest solar panel installation. All of which will be nestled among the four enormous mounds, now almost entirely capped with a 5 ft thick engineered system comprised of different sub-layers.

    Each of the four mounds made of 135 to 200 feet of trash will serve different functions. The South mound will accommodate recreational activities including horseback riding and mountain bike trails and the North mound will primarily be pastoral land. Educational components will be located on the East mound, while the West mound, which temporarily reopened to accept debris after the tragic events of 9/11, will have a monument in honor of the recovery effort.

    The draft master plan shows Frshkills park comprised of five sub-parks.
    Courtesy: NYC Parks and Recreation and James Corner Field Operations.

    While slinking through the confluence, Grassi explained how Freshkills Park has already evolved to serve the adjacent communities through an advanced landfill gas collection system. The Department of Sanitation has been harvesting methane from the decomposing waste buried under the mounds–enough to heat approximately 22,000 homes. Thanks to this sustainable initiative, the city generates approximately $12 million in annual revenue by selling this gas to National Grid.

    While the park is an incredibly captivating destination, the journey is equally intriguing, sprinkled with a plethora of moments that depict different eras in the history of the island. From the rustic industrial infrastructure to scenic wildlife habitat on the isle of meadows, the AIA boat tour took us on a 4 hour experience through Staten Island’s natural and built history. Freshkills Park is the story of renewal and New York’s effort to restore balance and beauty back to nature.

    The garbage however, still continues to flow, with its final destination now spread across four different states.

    More photos at untappedcities

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