freshkills
In a recent blog post, The New York Times‘ architecture critic Michael Kimmelman made a great case for what our friends at the 2,200-acre Freshkills park have been doing. He said that during Hurricane Sandy, the “Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island absorbed a critical part of the storm surge.” The park’s “hills and waterways spared nearby neighborhoods like Travis, Bulls Head, New Springville and Arden Heights from much worse flooding.”

Just ten years ago, the park was a huge waste dump, creating noxious odors for residents and serving as a drain on the community. Then, James Corner, ASLA, and his team at Field Operations, won an international design competition and transformed the park. The design team saw heaps of trash, contained under membrane layers, and then “imagined decades-long, evolving earthwork of different grasses, grown, cut and replanted, creating a rich new soil and landscape.”

Now, Kimmelman eloquently outlines the park’s value: “Since its closing [as a waste facility], Fresh Kills has become a model for landfill reclamation around the world, having been transformed into a vast green space full of wildlife. Now it is also demonstrating the role of wetland buffers in battling rising waters.”

He thinks that the park’s success in reducing storm damage will not only help the cause of green infrastructure, but will also show city regulators that they need to move faster in removing the last hurdles to opening the park to visitors. These “regulatory and financial hurdles, along with the usual bureaucratic conflicts, have stalled progress. The state environmental agency wants to make sure the site is safe, which makes sense. At the same time, the price tag — by some estimates, hundreds of millions of dollars — has clearly daunted city leaders and led officials to pursue a piecemeal transformation that could undo Mr. Corner’s concept.”

For an architecture critic, Kimmelman seems to clearly understand that good landscape architecture that delivers many benefits costs money, and may have a bigger bang for the buck that architecture. With the “$4 billion (or more) that is being squandered on a new PATH station at the World Trade Center site for perhaps 50,000 commuters, the cost of Fresh Kills doesn’t sound quite so crazy. Now there’s word that the Metropolitan Transit Authority may need to spend $600 million to restore the South Ferry subway station, which opened just in 2009 and was flooded by the storm.”

Watch a great video Kimmelman did with Eloise Hirsh, administrator of Freshkills Park for the New York City Parks Department. Also, while it will be decades before the entire 2,200-acre park is completed, public park design work is well underway. Learn more about the designs taking shape.

Image credit: Freshkills Park / NYC Parks and Recreation