Capturing Change: The Golden Hour

For the last year and a half, Urban Omnibus has been tracking ongoing efforts to build a wilderness atop the remains of the infamous Fresh Kills Landfill in Staten Island. A series of photo essays in collaboration with the Freshkills Park Development Team documents the progress of the nascent parkland as plastic, rocks, and soil are spread and grasses take root to cover the 150 million tons of waste that built up over the landfill’s 54 years of operation. This time, the transformation of what had been the landfill’s East Mound into the serene East Park is especially remarkable for photographers Andrea Callard and Michael McWeeney, who remember the view of the landfill from across busy Richmond Avenue and the mall that abuts it. Staten Islanders Sean Sweeney and Lance J. Reha, and returning off-islander Charles Giraudet, find something newly captivating as well. East Park is 482 acres, with a hill that plateaus at 122 feet; expansive grasslands belie the dense neighborhoods that hem the park. Based on current estimates, East Park will be open for early access in five years.

As we approach 2017, it is easy to feel discouraged by what’s happened this year or anxious about what the next has in store. But this quarter’s photographs remind us that change, however slow, comes on inexorably, and that new life can emerge from the most toxic environments. The now robust grasslands disguise almost completely the mounds of trash that lie beneath them; proof that any amount of garbage can be overcome.

O.S.

Photo by Sean Sweeney courtesy of the City of New York: NYC Parks, Freshkills Park, and the Department of Sanitation; Click image to begin a slideshow

Photographers board the vehicle that will take them beyond Freshkills Park’s closed gates at the golden hour, that time before sunset when the landscape is highlighted by warmer and more indirect light. This part of the day makes an already unusual place look especially surreal. Sunlight moves across the engineered meadows and casts shadows on the landfill infrastructure, signaling a moment of luminous change.

At Freshkills Park, changes to the landscape have happened slowly and on a large scale. In 1948, the area of tidal creeks and salt marsh became a municipal landfill, and the hills of New York City’s garbage grew for the next 50 years. Since New York State ordered it closed in 1996, the decades-long process of capping the Fresh Kills Landfill has created a new geography. The remaining creeks run through the heart of the area, and the four major landfill hills are sealed off with layers of materials, including soil and a mix of native grasses. The result is an unexpected ecosystem, serving as a resource for birds, turtles, and other species while the phased transition to public parkland is underway.

“I find it beautiful and strange and compelling, a landscape imagined and reimagined over a long time,” artist Andrea Callard said. She has been visiting the site since the 1970s, when people could drive to certain parts of the landfill on Saturdays to drop off unwanted objects. She once stood with her young son in the Staten Island Mall parking lot, where a section of the landfill now known as East Park was just across the street, and recorded video of the countless seagulls flying overhead. Twenty years later, Callard photographs East Park in its most recent phase, with expansive views, billowing grasslands, and wildlife sightings.

The 2,200-acre park is opening gradually in sections. Three perimeter projects are already completed, and construction will soon begin on a landmark project that will connect visitors to views of the creeks and hills. “I am looking at the park now as a wild place in its infancy,” photographer Michael McWeeney said. He grew up on Staten Island and visited the landfill when he worked for local papers in the 1990s. Now the place he once considered an embarrassment gives him a sense of pride, and he regularly shoots black and white images that illustrate the texture and shape of East Park’s urban prairie. “Documenting this transition is important,” McWeeney said. “It shows what can be done to reclaim dead spaces and make them viable again.”

Freshkills Park is in an ongoing golden hour, situated somewhere between what it was and what it will become. These photographs document the in-between spaces that could be overlooked if we spent too much time dwelling on the past and wondering about the future. They remind us that the present can be illuminated, and it can span miles.

Sean Sweeney

Photo by Sean Sweeney courtesy of the City of New York: NYC Parks, Freshkills Park, and the Department of Sanitation

Photo by Sean Sweeney courtesy of the City of New York: NYC Parks, Freshkills Park, and the Department of Sanitation

Photo by Sean Sweeney courtesy of the City of New York: NYC Parks, Freshkills Park, and the Department of Sanitation

Photo by Sean Sweeney courtesy of the City of New York: NYC Parks, Freshkills Park, and the Department of Sanitation

Photo by Sean Sweeney courtesy of the City of New York: NYC Parks, Freshkills Park, and the Department of Sanitation

Charles Giraudet

Photo by Charles Giraudet courtesy of the City of New York: NYC Parks, Freshkills Park, and the Department of Sanitation

A tidal creek borders the hill at the center of East Park. | Photo by Charles Giraudet courtesy of the City of New York: NYC Parks, Freshkills Park, and the Department of Sanitation

Photo by Charles Giraudet courtesy of the City of New York: NYC Parks, Freshkills Park, and the Department of Sanitation

Photo by Charles Giraudet courtesy of the City of New York: NYC Parks, Freshkills Park, and the Department of Sanitation

Photo by Charles Giraudet courtesy of the City of New York: NYC Parks, Freshkills Park, and the Department of Sanitation

Photo by Charles Giraudet courtesy of the City of New York: NYC Parks, Freshkills Park, and the Department of Sanitation

Andrea Callard

Photo by Andrea Callard courtesy of the City of New York: NYC Parks, Freshkills Park, and the Department of Sanitation

Photo by Andrea Callard courtesy of the City of New York: NYC Parks, Freshkills Park, and the Department of Sanitation

Photo by Andrea Callard courtesy of the City of New York: NYC Parks, Freshkills Park, and the Department of Sanitation

Photo by Andrea Callard courtesy of the City of New York: NYC Parks, Freshkills Park, and the Department of Sanitation

Photo by Andrea Callard courtesy of the City of New York: NYC Parks, Freshkills Park, and the Department of Sanitation

Gravel roads wind through East Park. | Photo by Andrea Callard courtesy of the City of New York: NYC Parks, Freshkills Park, and the Department of Sanitation

Michael McWeeney

Photo by Michael McWeeney courtesy of the City of New York: NYC Parks, Freshkills Park, and the Department of Sanitation

Photo by Michael McWeeney courtesy of the City of New York: NYC Parks, Freshkills Park, and the Department of Sanitation

Photo by Michael McWeeney courtesy of the City of New York: NYC Parks, Freshkills Park, and the Department of Sanitation

Photo by Michael McWeeney courtesy of the City of New York: NYC Parks, Freshkills Park, and the Department of Sanitation

Photo by Michael McWeeney courtesy of the City of New York: NYC Parks, Freshkills Park, and the Department of Sanitation

Photo by Michael McWeeney courtesy of the City of New York: NYC Parks, Freshkills Park, and the Department of Sanitation

Photo by Michael McWeeney courtesy of the City of New York: NYC Parks, Freshkills Park, and the Department of Sanitation

Photo by Michael McWeeney courtesy of the City of New York: NYC Parks, Freshkills Park, and the Department of Sanitation

Lance J. Reha

Photo by Lance J. Reha courtesy of the City of New York: NYC Parks, Freshkills Park, and the Department of Sanitation

Photo by Lance J. Reha courtesy of the City of New York: NYC Parks, Freshkills Park, and the Department of Sanitation

Photo by Lance J. Reha courtesy of the City of New York: NYC Parks, Freshkills Park, and the Department of Sanitation

Photo by Lance J. Reha courtesy of the City of New York: NYC Parks, Freshkills Park, and the Department of Sanitation

Photo by Lance J. Reha courtesy of the City of New York: NYC Parks, Freshkills Park, and the Department of Sanitation

A white tailed deer spotted in the tall grass. | Photo by Lance J. Reha courtesy of the City of New York: NYC Parks, Freshkills Park, and the Department of Sanitation

Photo by Lance J. Reha courtesy of the City of New York: NYC Parks, Freshkills Park, and the Department of Sanitation

Photo by Lance J. Reha courtesy of the City of New York: NYC Parks, Freshkills Park, and the Department of Sanitation


Megan Moriarty is a writer and Programming Associate at Freshkills Park.

The views expressed here are those of the author only and do not reflect the position of Urban Omnibus editorial staff or The Architectural League of New York.



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