Freshkills Landfill in Staten Island was established in 1948 on land that was originally tidal creeks and coastal marsh. It was the largest landfill in the world, second now only to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. By the time of its forced closure in 2001 by the EPA, the site had reached 2200 acres, almost three times the size of Central Park, with a peak taller than the Statue of Liberty. Unbeknownst to the general public, Freshkills is also the largest man-made structure on earth, surpassing the Great Wall of China (by volume)! It is also a revenue generator, giving the city $12 million a year through the sale of methane gas emissions to Con Edison and National Grid.

In 1999, the New York Dept. of City Planning launched an international design competition for a master plan to convert the site into New York’s largest park. New York based landscape architecture firm, Field Operations, was chosen. The lead architect, James Corner, is the same man who designed the High Line. To be built over course of the next thirty years, the park will consist of five areas, each with a unique character and architectural program. NYC Dept. of Parks & Recreation describes the framework of the plan as integrating “three separate systems–programming, wildlife, and circulation–into one cohesive and dynamic unit.”

This ambitious public works reclamation project addresses the contrast between natural and engineered aestheticism, the contradiction of an urban ecology, a direct physical dialogue about our human impact on the environment, the complex issues of sustainability and preservation, and the appropriation of public space.

What this means for us laymen: Spectacular views of Manhattan, recreational opportunities (bike paths, kayaking, horseback riding, fishing), unique public space for art   – like old barges repurposed as floating gardens, and wildlife habitats. If you are interested, Untapped New York will be going this Saturday, June 27th to check out what has been constructed so far – there are still spots open if you sign up here on the NYC Parks & Recreation website. Also on their site: nerdy information on the cool ecological restoration techniques they are using!

UPDATE: Pictures from the Untapped Trip to Fresh Kills!