Calvary Cemetery in Queens

If you’ve been following Matt Green’s quest to walk every street in New York City, you’ll notice he’s been posting about cemeteries recently as he walks through Washington Cemetery. Cemeteries aren’t something we think about every day, but it’s definitely an urban planning issue (it’s covered in the curriculum at Columbia University’s Urban Planning department) because the city is simply running out of space for the dead.

The aforementioned Washington Cemetery in Brooklyn ran out of space in early 2010, even after cleverly redesigning the roads and walkways. The visually famous Calvary Cemetery, New York City’s largest Catholic cemetery in Queens isn’t accepting new applicants, but those that already reserved a plot are still being buried there. Similarly, Trinity Church Cemetery in Washington Heights, Manhattan’s last remaining open graveyard also stopped selling plots. Green-wood Cemetery anticipates to be out of room in less than 10 years.

Being buried in New York City also comes at a price. According to The New York Times“per square foot, burial plots in centrally located cemeteries rival the most expensive real estate in the city. A private mausoleum at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx can easily cost more than $1,000 per square foot.”

So what to do? Looking outside New York City, or in some less popular boroughs is an option. There’s space still on Staten Island and parts of the Bronx, like at Woodlawn. Stacking upwards, like in mausoleums are a solution for the cemeteries but not everyone wants to be buried this way. Urban design and planning projects are popping up in the academic world addressing this issue not only in New York City, but in cities like Rio de Janeiro and Hong Kong that are also facing a space crunch.

Here’s an FAQ from the state regarding cemeteries and burials. One fun note is that there isn’t a legal requirement on how long you can take to fill the grave after burial, “but the Cemetery Board does require that it be completed with reasonable dispatch.”

Read more from our Cities 101 series about how stuff works in the city.