It was the world’s largest landfill until it closed in 2001. Now it is New York City’s newest park. At 2,200 acres, Freshkills Park is almost three times the size of Central Park and the largest park to be developed in New York City in over 100 years.
Engineered with layers of soil and infrastructure, the area has become a place for wildlife, recreation, science, education, and art. And it also produces biogas used for cooking and heating in homes on Staten Island.
A gas collection system vacuums out the landfill gas and sends it to a purification plant, where methane is removed. The city sells 1.5 million cubic feet of this treated biogas to the local utility. (The average American household uses 70,000 cubic feet of natural gas annually.) It is one of more than 500 former US dumps that are now transforming landfill gas into fuel.
A soccer field opened in 2013 and a bikeway in 2014. In North Park, the first section to be opened that allows public access into the interior of the former landfill, the trash has been sculpted into four hills arranged around a tidal creek open for kayaking. Six layers of soil, sand and plastic lining sit on top of the garbage to prevent toxic leaks, and a vent layer moves any escaping landfill gas into pipes.
Freshkills was a wetland when NYC Parks Commissioner Robert Moses chose it as a landfill site after World War II, with a plan to build housing on top of it after three years. But New York was growing so fast that the site kept accepting up to 29,000 tons of garbage daily until it finally stopped accepting household garbage in 2001.
The Municipal Art Society (MAS) collaborated with the City of New York to sponsor an international design competition, run by the Department of City Planning. That led to a Draft Master Plan, designed by landscape architecture firm Field Operations, which integrates 2,200 acres of open grasslands, waterways and engineered structures into one unit.
An expansive network of paths, recreational waterways, and enhanced access through a system of park drives will help create an animated, interconnected park. Future plans include a publicly accessible road system that will connect the West Shore Expressway (Route 440) and Richmond Avenue and provide access to the different areas of the park.
The site is large enough to support many activities and programs, including nature hikes, kayaking, and large scale public art. As the park is built in phases, free tours and events are providing early access for learning and exploration opportunities, including research, art, education, and recreation such as hiking, birdwatching, bicycling, running, and kayak tours.
Freshkills Park is home to a variety of habitats with a diverse array of wildlife. As a reclaimed landscape in a densely urban region, it can provide habitat needs to vulnerable species. Native grasses were planted on the capped landfill mounds, and rare grassland birds now make their home in what has become one of the region’s largest grassland habitats.
The park is a living classroom for students to explore ecology, sustainability, New York City history, and art and design. It works with schools, camps, scout groups, and clubs to offer in-person field trips, virtual field trips, and service opportunities, along with multimedia resources to teach about Freshkills Park and grassland ecosystems in schools.
How New York City Turned the World’s Biggest Garbage Dump Into a Park Bloomberg, Oct. 21, 2023
Cover image: Freshkills Park