Terre Farm: Fresh Kills Park

Fresh Kills is a giant landfill reclamation project, with landscape design by the uber-hip Field Operations.  It is to be developed over some 30 years,  The site is HUGE.

I’m a lover of parks but I left the tour totally disheartened by the bigger issues at play. I love the vision but I see many challenges to this park to make it accessible and a destination.  One to watch, nonetheless.


  • The waste system is crazy when you really think about it.   The volumes of accumulated trash are astounding when you see it spatially.  I remember CUP doing a project on where does your trash go? I will fully admit that I don’t know too much about it.  Like many people, I can relate to this “out of sight, out of mind” mentality in a local and global context. Mitch had mentioned that at the beginning of classes he would offer to give an automatic A to students who would carry everything they binned in a bag for 2 weeks.  That is everywhere you go, you had to carry it.  He said it would be an average of 7 bags during that time.  That’s would be an eye-opening experience!  No student has ever done it.
  • The landfill closure means New York is now exporting trash to other cities.  Staten Island’s goes to train to South Carolina, most of Manhattan’s gets trucked out.   How can that be financially or environmentally sustainable?  Why not keep part of the site or look into different strategies of reduction or different methods? There was some talk how in Korea and Europe there are especially strong innovations restricted by space.  How fair is it to continue to displace the problems?
  • Noone likes to live near crappy things like landfill, and the park will be a huge improvement for locals.   But it does reveal to me this tension that is in many urban systems.  The not-in-my-backyard mentality stems from concentrating impact, and that only seems a symptom of large centralized systems (water, sewage, trash, housing projects).   Large systems are created for some efficiency but at the same time can be more vulnerable.  Seems like design should be going towards a local network of diversified small-medium centres so impact and benefits can be spread.
  • The capping regulations require a layer of “residential grade” soil to be on top of certain areas for it to be deemed safe for public park.  This is TONNES of soil they will be importing in but currently have no idea where from.  He mentioned Field Operation had put in an idea of creating top soil- in a planting regime where you plant, let things die, replant etc – but it would have been only inches over years.   The guide mentioned it was not cost effective or timely but over a 30 year plan- seems like space and TIME!  They have scaled down municipal composting at Fresh Kills though you would think that could be ongoing park asset to even scale up.   On some capped mounds there are now plants and trees on industrial soil that were established by planting as well as natural seed dispersion- and it seemed odd that this landscape will essentially be buried with residential grade soil.  Seems like there must be some opportunity to think ahead, use these areas or start composting these sites.

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