New York Magazine takes a detailed look at the former Fresh Kills Landfill, and James Corner, the architect who is working to reclaim it. The heaps of trash that were built up on the Staten Island dump from 1948 until 2001 comprise one of the world's largest manmade structures. Though the dump has been closed ever since (with the exception of some loads of post-9/11 debris), parts of Fresh Kills will reopen within the next two years - as an outdoor oasis three times the size of Central Park.
Which begs the question - how would you feel about playing tennis, hiking and even kayaking through a site that used to be heaped to the height of the Statue of Liberty with trash? Most of has been buried, of course. An article on Scienceline about the project says that the mounds of trash are enclosed in plastic or clay, and then covered with two feet of clean soil, which now sprouts with wild grasses. Pipes allow methane gas, sold as fuel, to escape from the decomposing heaps as they compress. Leachate, a mix of water and chemical garbage sludge, channels out from underneath the mounds, and is processed like sewage.
Corner's design doesn't gloss over the site's past. The methane pipes, which hiss audibly with the sound of escaping gas, will remain, and be vandal-proofed. There will be a memorial to the victims of the World Trade Center collapse, because many of their remains were mixed in the building debris that is now underfoot. The trash heaps, which led New York Magazine to dub the site "Wall-E Park," are the central part of Corner's plan for the site:
"I was just blown away by the scope and beauty of the place," he recalls. Embracing the hills was as counterintuitive to most city-park design as it was consistent with Corner's philosophy of landscape, which was to take chances with what he called "the tough, machinic, strange quality of these sites" to reinvent a city dweller's recreational landscape. The takeaway point: Keep the views, which he knew would blow away every New Yorker who will, 40 years from now, take a hybrid bus or solar-powered ferry to the place. "I said, 'Look, whatever we do we've got to keep the big and green. These are views and vistas that most people in a city would have to drive three or four hours to see.'"
According to Michael Marrella, a project administrator from the Department of City Planning, "the infrastructure to keep the landfill gas and juices flowing will be less of a danger to people than they will be to it." Photos that go with the article promise spectacular vistas, and a genuinely beautiful space.