Of Landfills, Parks, and Legacies

Looking west from the North Mound of Freshkills Park

For the past several years, a consortium of city agencies, community groups, not-for-profit arts and planning organizations, artists, and landscape architects have been working together to create the bright and verdant future of a geography that, not too long ago, was deeply despised. Because of their efforts, Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island, once the largest landfill in the world and one of only two human-built structures visible from space, is becoming Freshkills Park, the second-largest green space in New York City and a world-class model of how a former wasteland can be turned into environmental opulence. On Sunday, October 3, 2010, in an event called “Freshkills Park Sneak Peak,” New Yorkers were given a preview of its extraordinary transformation. It will take several more years of work, but in the not-too-distant future Staten Islanders will have a park that is the envy of the city. It would be understandable if anyone who lived near Freshkills when it was an active landfill wants to forget what lies beneath the waving grasslands and glittering beech trees, but its history makes the geography even more remarkable. The care and thought that are hallmarks of Freshkills today show us at our creative, collaborative best. The countless objects buried deep within it were hated across the 51 years that they were piled up, but they, too, have begun a transformation of meaning and significance. They arrived as garbage, but as time passes, they become artifacts — a chaos of relics, markers, infinite clues about the lives and customs of the people who left them. Unloved right now, that vast collection might one day be understood as the randomly gathered remnants of a particular culture, a specific moment in time, a slice of history – more precisely, they are remnants of our culture, our moment, our history. Freshkills Park will be a lasting testament to our resourcefulness and imagination; some day, far in the future, so will the legacy of what shapes its hills.

North Mound

What are parks for? Among many other things -- running!

Walking down from North Mound

A kite soaring over Freshkills Park hollers for joy

The Social Mirror, an artwork by Mierle Laderman Ukeles