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Rubbish Dump to Green Oasis

How the world’s largest garbage dump evolved into a green oasis. The radical fix for a noxious landfill in Staten Island: Bury the trash, plant some grass and do nothing for 20 years.

New York skyline seen from Freshkills today.

Imagine New York’s Central Park with garbage mountains 60 stories high. That’s how awful it was. By the late 1970s, an estimated 28,000 tons of New Yorker's trash arrived at the dump, appropriately called Fresh Kills, every day. The last barge dropped its toxic load off on 22 March 2001 and, the same day, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani turned up for a photo opportunity, promising a more beautiful future for the massive eyesore.

Today, Fresh Kills has been rebranded as Freshkills, and the park that is now at the site of the old dump is poised to accept visitors: the North Park will open in spring 2021, the rest by 2036, reports the New York Times.

Freshkills is possibly the least likely poster child for urban ecological restoration in the world, and it is radical not just for the way it works - by encouraging flora and fauna do as they please - but for its sheer size. It is almost unbelievable that New York City would set aside a parcel of land covering 2,200 acres - and just let it go to seed.

Over the course of 20 years, the parks and sanitation departments worked together with Field Operations (the landscape architects) to restore or encourage tidal wetlands, to generate forests, scrublands, and the wide-open fields of grasses. The Sanitation Department refines the methane within the ground and pipes it to Staten Island homes for cooking and heat, which makes a cup of tea in a warm room on a cold day a little miracle of noxious composting.

A few kayaks were permitted in the waterways in 2011. Goats were brought in for their ecological restoration abilities in 2012 as they eat phragmites, a common reed that otherwise tends to take over the marshes. An art gallery popped up in 2018.

Freshkills today is a place to witness change, a giant viewing station for ecological adaptation. It's a healing place, where game cams spot the red fox at play on the edges of the rising woodlands or in the wildlife crossings that are co-designed by humans and the wildlife doing the crossing. Acres of wide-open grasslands are rare anywhere in the U.S. - and unimaginable in a city overrun by development. Meanwhile, newly planted grasses in Freshkills have attracted a steady population of birds, including the largest colony of grasshopper sparrows in New York State.

The next creatures park planners are hoping to attract are humans, who have been locked out since these 2,200 acres of the island’s west shore were first locked down for trash. When 20 acres of trails and fields opens next spring, it will be a monumental event.

Original source: New York Times

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