Leachate and Landscape

As garbage decomposes, hundreds of vertical wells collect the byproduct landfill gas. Underground pipes convey the gas to flare stations and ultimately a landfill gas purification plant, where carbon dioxide is absorbed and the gas is prepared for distribution for heating and cooking. | Photo by Andrea Callard courtesy of the City of New York: NYC Parks, Freshkills Park, and the Department of Sanitation

Reminders of the complex systems that manage Freshkills Park dot the surface of the landfill-to-landscape. From the monitoring wellheads and sculpted topography, to the gravel roads, the necklaces of ponds and swales, and even the grasses, the site has been completely engineered throughout its history. Starting in 1948, Robert Moses filled the Fresh Kills wetlands for planned residential development, and then the New York City Department of Sanitation re-engineered the site in a constant feedback loop over the following 50 years to accommodate increasing tonnage of residential waste. Most recently, engineering has worked to re-create infrastructure as public space. When municipalities or private companies establish landfills, projected costs include not only the active life of facility operations, but also closure, an estimate that is updated annually, and “post-closure care,” or long-term maintenance. At present, the planned public utility of a landfill typically ends once closed. But considering “park” as a landfill end use expands the definitions of “post-closure care” and situates Freshkills Park as part of the maintenance plan for Fresh Kills Landfill.

As park development, begun in 2006 with the Draft Master Plan, continues incrementally, management of the site is shared by the NYC Department of Sanitation and NYC Parks, namely the Freshkills Park Development Team, and regulated as a closed landfill by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Each distinct section is separated from the next by waterways and highway overpasses, navigable by roads and bridges. In addition to the maintenance of these familiar forms of infrastructure, a closed landfill requires specialized care. The Department of Sanitation manages the systems at Freshkills that collect and treat waste’s byproducts (leachate and landfill gas), and conducts regular mowing, which allows access for upkeep and stops the 2,200-acre site from evolving into a wild forest.

This collection of photographs puts infrastructure front and center, the obvious and more hidden features that make the Freshkills Park project possible. Its scale and construction timeline have set in motion a new pattern of simultaneous park development and landfill maintenance to recreate public infrastructure as public space, a model that has been and will continue to be applied to landfills and other industrial spaces around the world — even from the very beginning, when the landfills are first established. A park in this context may be both a valuable public amenity and a solution to the challenge of maintaining decommissioned infrastructure. In both form and function, Freshkills Park transforms the landscape.

Andrea Callard

The gooseneck pipes and flare stations in the distance are both signs of the site’s landfill gas collection system. The blue buildings on the right are remnants of landfill operation. | Photo by Andrea Callard courtesy of the City of New York: NYC Parks, Freshkills Park, and the Department of Sanitation
Gravel roads wrap around the garbage mounds at Freshkills Park, which have been capped with soils, geotextiles, and a geomembrane, and seeded with a native plant mix. | Photo by Andrea Callard courtesy of the City of New York: NYC Parks, Freshkills Park, and the Department of Sanitation

Cameron Blaylock

Flare station blowers create a vacuum that pulls landfill gas into the vertical wells and through the network of lateral pipes. | Photo by Cameron Blayloc courtesy of the City of New York: NYC Parks, Freshkills Park, and the Department of Sanitation
Between blooming trees, a group of recycling bins are stored for later use across New York City. | Photo by Cameron Blaylock courtesy of the City of New York: NYC Parks, Freshkills Park, and the Department of Sanitation
Landfill gas wells punctuate a swath of land unusually wide for New York City. The Manhattan skyline stands in stark contrast in the distance. | Photo by Cameron Blaylock courtesy of the City of New York: NYC Parks, Freshkills Park, and the Department of Sanitation

Jo Cavallo

Capping is still underway at West Mound. Soil piles for the landfill cap are visible at the top of the mound. To the right is the landfill gas purification plant. | Photo by Jo Cavallo courtesy of the City of New York: NYC Parks, Freshkills Park, and the Department of Sanitation
The meadows are mown once annually to prevent forest succession, but some trees still manage to grow on the mounds. When managed, trees do not pose a threat of compromising the landfill cap. | Photo by Jo Cavallo courtesy of the City of New York: NYC Parks, Freshkills Park, and the Department of Sanitation

Dmitry Zbarsky

A bridge spans historic Richmond Creek, connecting two sections of the landfill-turned-park. | Photo by Dmitry Zbarsky courtesy of the City of New York: NYC Parks, Freshkills Park, and the Department of Sanitation

Sean Sweeney

Two of Freshkills Park’s three flare stations. | Photo by Sean Sweeney courtesy of the City of New York: NYC Parks, Freshkills Park, and the Department of Sanitation
A utility line spans East Mound. In the foreground, manhole covers conceal some of the vertical wells that collect landfill gas. | Photo by Sean Sweeney courtesy of the City of New York: NYC Parks, Freshkills Park, and the Department of Sanitation

Mariel Villeré is Manager for Programs, Arts, and Grants at Freshkills Park.

Series

Capturing Change

Photographers document the transformation of a Staten Island landfill into parkland. A long term collaboration with NYC Parks and the Freshkills Park Development Team.