The New York Times recently ran an article on about the future Freshkills Park in Staten Island New York. The article caught my attention because for 53 years Freshkills was the final destination for New York City's trash, making it the world’s largest landfill. Hundreds of millions were invested in shutting down the landfill--then, the project was turned over to the Department of Parks and Recreation to create a park on the 2,200 acres (three times the size of Central Park) over the next 25 years. A massive undertaking--but, considering the need for open space and land in New York and the educational opportunities that can be linked to the park’s history, this place has the potential to be a great example of environmental conservation, sustainability, and community education.
I find the most interesting part of the project is a keen awareness by park staff of how important future park users are to the project. Keeping citizens interested and therefore advocating for the continuation of development is key during these tough budget times. So park professionals host “sneak preview”days, conduct weekly recycling and environmental education programming near the future park site, and even host a blog, social media and a smart phone application. (The blog and social media are being managed by college interns.)
The first phase of the development will not actually be on the former landfill but will be across the street with a neighborhood facing park and soccer fields, adding value to the neighborhood in the short-term. Eloise Hirsh, park administrator said in a recent phone interview “We want to attract walkers, local mountain bikers, dog owners, and the entire community to participate in recycling efforts and education around Freshkills. We want to invite all to participate.” When asked what advice she would give to other cities considering starting this process, Hirsh says “Come talk to us and fully understand where you are at in the regulatory process.” She adds that what has helped their project was fitting in to the city’s sustainability agenda.
Shelley R. O'Brien is NRPA’s Senior Manager of Fundraising.