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Morning Spew

A New York City Landfill You Can Love

The largest trash heap in the world becomes New York's second-largest park.

Staten Island ferry. (Hell Gate)

A lot of New York City is (quite fittingly) built on trash. Lower Manhattan’s land mass was extended atop trash deposits or even piles of old boats, and Battery Park City famously rests on the land that was dug up to build the Twin Towers. Flushing Meadows-Corona Park is the site of F. Scott Fitzgerald's poetically dismal ash heap, and Ellis Island is built on the rubble that they dug up to clear the first subways. Rikers Island? Swollen by trash. 

So naturally, the second-largest park in the city, Freshkills in Staten Island, is just one giant trash heap. From 1947 to 2001, New Yorkers literally dumped their trash on its least-loved borough, and when driving past it, would have to hold their noses. Over the weekend, the first part of Freshkills opened up to the public, a 21-acre section of what's dubbed the North Park, with biking and walking trails, a lookout deck to observe New York Harbor (atop your kingdom of trash), and access to an adjoining (non-trashy) wildlife refuge. Eventually the park will stretch to cover 233 acres, with the full park scheduled to be open by 2036. New York has stepped up its trash park game of late—Shirley Chisholm Park in Brooklyn, completed in 2021, is also built on former landfills. 

“For far too long Staten Island has been a forgotten borough. We all remember this Freshkills, it was nothing fresh about the smell that came out here, it killed,” Mayor Eric Adams told reporters on opening the section on Sunday.

How can one get to this beautiful trash park? By a combination of city buses, driving, or, a beautiful trip over the Staten Island ferry and then a ninety-minute fairly perilous bike ride through Staten Island (they should make a nice safe bike lane to get there!). 

The trash beneath the park is still venting off methane from decomposing refuse. That methane is captured and purified by the City, who then sells it to Natural Grid to be used in home heating in Staten Island. The city has found decreasing levels of methane being given off by the mounds, however, and has plans to stop the treatment of methane in the next few years

This all figures into a beautiful postscript for New York City's trash. So what's happening with our refuse these days? Beyond a renewed composting effort, our recycling diversion rates are still dismal, meaning a lot of New York's waste is still destined for landfills. And those landfills? They're about to hit capacity, and have blighted nearby communities for decades. Meaning that while this trash story of ours can sometimes end happily with a park, we still haven't quite figured out what to do with all of our shit. 

May Your Trash Become Fash-ionable, at the Parks Department of Success: 

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