State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Wasteland Transformed into Magnificent Freshkills Park

Odors of putrid garbage and mismanaged waste are being replaced by fragrant grass and flowers at Staten Island’s Freshkills Park, once the world’s biggest landfill.

Freshkills Park – Photo by Brian Kateman

Since the master planning process was devised in 2001, staff and volunteers from The New York City Department of Parks and Recreation have continued to work hard to transform the 2,200 acres of land, nearly three times the size of central park, into an alluring cultural destination. While development will continue throughout the next several decades, it will soon begin to feature a suite of recreational activities that emphasizes the importance of environmental sustainability, conservation, and ecological restoration.

As a native of Staten Island and devoted environmentalist, I am particularly smitten with this renewed concern for our impact on the planet.

This past Sunday, on October 2nd, 2011, I had the privilege of attending the “Sneak Peak” event at Freshkills Park. By taking part in scheduled tours and educational demonstrations and events, I learned a great deal about the park infrastructure and surrounding nature.

Bird Sightings at Fresh Kills Park – Photo by Brian Kateman

Nine habitat types currently occupy The Freshkills Park site, including tidal wetland, freshwater wetland, mud flat, upland grass field, scrub shrub, wet meadow, successional woodland, palustrine forested wetland, and phragmites field. By linking new wildlife areas with adjacent natural resources, the park will support communities of mammals, crustaceans, insects, and fish.

A birding station, equipped with scopes and binoculars and knowledgeable volunteers from the Staten Island Museum, demonstrated how many organisms already depend on this thriving urban ecosystem.

Compost Bin – Photo by Brian Kateman

With an emphasis on sustainability education, I learned more about how to effectively recycle my trash and compost organic matter.

The office of Recycling Outreach and Education, a program of GrowNYC, a non-profit which strives to improve New York City’s quality of life through environmental programs, challenged me and other visitors to sort through paper, metal, glass, and plastic garbage into appropriate receptacles. Earth Matter, an organization that seeks to reduce the organic waste misdirected into the garbage stream, provided information about how to compost, both indoors and outdoors.

Photo of Flag Composed of Plastic – Photo by Brian Kateman

Amidst petting goats, kayaking, birdwatching, and kite making, I had the opportunity to meet with eco-enthusiasts who use creative thinking and unique abilities to construct artwork from “garbage”. A flag composed of mail, cape made out of wonder bread bags, and bottle cap necklace inspire me to reflect on the famous idiom – “one man’s garbage is another man’s treasure.”

The park is also highly engineered, capable of extracting, purifying, and selling landfill gas (generated by the decomposition of organic materials) to provide energy energy to local homes. An impermeable plastic liner will prevent waste and its byproducts from entering into the surrounding environment.

What Do You Think? – Photo by Brian Kateman

When will the park be open to visitors? Construction of North Park and South Park is expected to be complete by 2016, but Access to the North and South Park of the site will happen in phases: phase one construction on the North Park and South Park are projected to be completed by early 2011 and 2014, respectively.

Finally, visitors who were given a sneak peak of the park were encouraged to share their thoughts on the day. When reflecting on shared sentiments such as “Awesome,” “Right on!,” and “I Love it All!,” it becomes clear that the event was a huge success.

Banner featuring a collage of extreme heat images.

Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

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