News from the Columbia Climate School

Students See Freshkills Park as Urban Redesign Project

The first fall field trip took students in the Undergraduate Program in Sustainable Development outside of the city limits, through the Narrows and into Staten Island to learn about Freshkills Park, the place once known as the world’s largest landfill. Upon arriving at St. George ferry terminal on Sept. 24, students were greeted by Doug Elliot of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, who led the way through the windy streets of Staten Island to conduct an educational tour of the park. Students learned about the history of the landfill, including the negative impact it had on surrounding communities, their efforts to have it shut down and its subsequent closure in 2001. They also learned about the structural engineering of the mound-capping phase.

“It was really interesting to see firsthand how waste from the five boroughs of New York City that accumulated from the 1970s to 2001 is being turned into green space,” said Natalie Unwin-Kuruneri, senior program manager. Students were able to see sustainable development in action through the parks transformation. They saw the final phase of the east mound capping, which consists of a protective lining that separates the underlying waste from several layers of geocomposite textiles and industrial grade soil. The extracted methane, which is released during the decomposition process, is sold to Staten Islanders as fuel.

Although it is still under construction, upon completion Freshkills Park will be approximately three times the size of Central Park. Among other recreational activities, the park is projected to offer the public cross country skiing, horseback riding trails, kayaking and environmental education programs.

“It’s encouraging to know that an area once dedicated to waste which drove away humans can be ‘recycled’ into a place that is better for the environment and significantly improves human living” said Rebecca Smith (CC’13). What was known as a landfill should now be known to future generations as a beautiful park, and one that is testament to the viability of urban redesign projects.

“The part of the trip that stuck with me the most was realizing that I was standing on top of 150 feet of trash. I never would have noticed, had someone not told me so. Landfills are not completely doomed areas. There is a chance for the rehabilitation of the land,” said Brianna L. Gibson (CC’13).

Science for the Planet: In these short video explainers, discover how scientists and scholars across the Columbia Climate School are working to understand the effects of climate change and help solve the crisis.
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