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.