With the start of a new school year, WHSAD students take on new projects, one of these being Freshkills Park. Similar to prior work with the Greenbelt Conservancy Corps, students enter this new site, also located in Staten Island, with the goals of promoting sustainable design and land use through hands-on learning. However, unlike the established Greenbelt, Freshkills is a new park, and the task assigned to students places emphasis on fundamentals and proposals, with WHSAD having the opportunity to shape the future of this park.
WHSAD’s first visit to Freshkills occurred on September 13th. With informative talks led by Program Coordinator for NYC Parks Department of Parks and Recreation, Chris Ricker, Freshkills Park Alliance Education Coordinator, Shannon Erickson, and Freshkills Park Alliance Volunteer Coordinator, Gaby Kucher, students and participating staff were given insight into the history and condition of the park.
In usual fashion, the first day was capped off with discussions on ethics, values, and morals-three things that students will have to keep in mind while planning for and to respect current and future generations of communities that will be impacted by the work they do on this project.
Fresh Kills stands at 2,200 acres, considered the largest park to be developed in New York City in over 100 years. But what is currently a park, used to be a landfill collecting thousands of pounds of trash from every borough daily, with thanks to city planner Robert Moses. While other boroughs were fine with this decision as their trash was no longer their problem, Staten Island residents had to deal with the unsightly view (and sometimes smell) of mountains of trash in their day to day lives. This landfill officially stopped accepting household trash in 2001, and with a competition held by the Department of City Planning, a plan to turn the land into a park was developed. With new laws of the time preventing the burning and ocean dumping of trash, developers chose to build layers over it-as students learned while on a tour of the park’s north mound.
Overall, the first day was informational, serving as an introduction to the site, the objectives of the project, and the standards students should maintain at all times.
Below are student accounts of their experience on the first day:
Neveah Patterson, WHSAD Freshman
“What I learned today is that a lot of states don’t work together as a community, and there is a lot of garbage under the ground. I also learned that New York sends a lot of garbage that they can’t hold to different states/countries, for example, New Jersey, Virginia, North Carolina, and China. And when those states can’t hold anymore garbage, they send it back to New York and New York sends it back to a different state/country until they get rid of all the garbage. I also learned that after a while the garbage will decompose and create methane gas which isn’t good for the environment so, there is a layer that stores and transports the gas to a filter so the environment isn’t exposed to those toxic airs. My experience today was really fun, and I learned some new things that I never knew before. For example, I learned that Freshkills Park used to be a landfill with a bunch of eagles feeding off of the piles of garbage that were being thrown onto the fields. There were also a lot of snails and crickets. During this experience I’m learning to get over my shyness and stage fright. I’m very excited to see how this project turns out and how we work as a community to make this project come together.”
Morgan Shoken, WHSAD Freshman
“Fresh Kills started out as wetlands but then was turned into the largest landfill in the world, which was only supposed to be a landfill for 3 years, but lasted 53 instead. Now after many years, it is being turned into a park which consists of 2,200 acres of grasslands.
My experience at Freshkills Park was pretty good. We first learned a lot about how it used to have an excessive amount of trash and garbage. We also learned about how it wasn’t always a landfill and who actually started it which was Robert Moses.
I expect that we are going to make a big change in Freshkills Park despite it being 2,200 acres of land, but I hope the impact we make will make a difference for years to come and is for the better of the park. I do look forward to working on this project with my teammates and exploring the different ideas everyone has to make an impact.
Something interesting about this trip was how they were/are fixing the problem by trying to turn it into a park. For example, instead of getting rid of everything, they actually tried to make the ground suitable for growing by adding layers of different things- which worked because now there are a variety of grasses growing throughout Freshkills.”
Randi Godley, WHSAD Senior
“Today we visited Freshkills Park and learned about the history of the area. 600 or so years ago it was a marshland where the Lenape people would travel by water from Delaware, Upstate New York, and all over the Atlantic coast to Staten Island to eat the abundance of oysters living there. After being violently displaced the land was uninhabited for some time. Then Robert Moses, blind to the positive effects marshlands have on the environment, decided to make the place into a landfill. The plan was for it to only last for 3 years but that 3 turned into 53, with each of the boroughs transporting all their trash there. Freshkills was getting about 29,000 lbs of trash per day, making it the world’s largest landfill. It finally shut down in 1996, then someone proposed the idea of making it into a park. The plan was put into action the following year. Unfortunately, in 2001 the 9/11 attacks happened and the city needed to place the debris and remains from the wreckage somewhere so the west mound opened up as a landfill once again, becoming the tallest mound at the park.
Then we walked on the North mound trail where we learned that we were walking on the garbage, it was just covered up by several layers. The first layer is the waste, next is the soil barrier layer, gas vent layer, impenetrable plastic liner, drainage layer, then barrier protection material, lastly planting soil. Each of these layers serves the purpose of not only covering the waste but also making sure it decomposes without harming anyone. For example, a gas well header pipe as well as the gas vent layer cuts through the soil barrier and deep into the waste in order to collect the methane from the decomposing garbage. Companies would actually buy that methane and use it in place of car gas. Fortunately or unfortunately, Freshkills doesn’t produce enough methane for them to do that anymore, but there still is some methane being produced, so there are several little facilities around the base of each mound that run off of it, then filter the residual gas into something that won’t harm the environment.
We went back to where we set up shop and broke off into 3 groups. My group members are Waylon, Kiara, Yochana, Morgan, and Chris. I think my job will be keeping everyone on task and making sure both of the freshmen are able to be heard. Chris he seems to be very introverted, and reluctant to speak but quite fun to be around. Morgan seems to be more outspoken between the two but doesn’t like starting the conversation off first unless it’s in a small group. Yochana is like Morgan in the way she doesn’t like starting the conversation off first, but she is very well articulated and comes up with great ideas. Kiara is also very much like Chris when it comes to speaking in a big group, or when faced with an unexpected question. She gets better after hearing other people’s responses and she builds off of them to create her own. Waylon is very outspoken and while he may not even realize sometimes his voice can drown others out so I hope that I do a good job at the task of making sure every voice is heard within our group, even mine.”
The second visit to Fresh Kills was far more hands on, with the first activity requiring students to collect insects in a process called habitat assessment, a necessary practice to take into consideration the life forms inhabiting the park while designing. This was followed by a second, more conceptual activity where students designed their own parks in groups. The activity gave students a glimpse into the work put into creating/programming parks- a relevant process to the early stages of Freshkills.
Yochana Dimanche, WHSAD Senior
“Today at the Freshkills Landfill was a deeply exhilarating & uplifting experience. It was the most fun I’ve had in a long while, for sure. Even having prepared for this day long in advance, it turned out to be so much more exciting & fulfilling than I had ever previously thought possible. The wonderful hands-on activities we partook in made me laugh & smile more than I ever thought I would. I had felt so at peace and connected, both with my peers & the world around me.
Our first activity was definitely the highlight of my entire day. We went out into the (former landfill) now-natural hill site to catch insects, arthropods & other bugs & creepy-crawlies to collect them for university research. We were split into groups, and we had a lot of fun conversing, laughing & playing as we took turns scooping up insects with butterfly nets & collecting them in zip-loc bags. There was a diverse amount of species, and it was so cool marveling at all the things everyone caught. I felt utterly joyful to see everyone else so happy & lively.
Overall, it was a wonderful day today. Looking out over the horizon of flourishing grassy pastures & peaceful, scenic hills made me feel as though I were in Heaven. Being out in this beautiful bucolic atmosphere & breathing in the fresh, warm air melted away all my stresses & worries. It makes me wish so much that I could live in the scenic suburban lands of Staten Island. I’m greatly thankful for being able to have had this experience, and greatly anticipate my next visit to the Freshkills Park.”
Kiara Guerrero, WHSAD Senior
“Today at Freshkills we collected bugs and insects from the East mound to put in zip log bags and have it sent to Rutgers University for studies.
We saw a Chinese praying mantis. We knew it was a Chinese mantis by looking at the bottom and seeing if it has a certain spot in the bottom which identifies them. We used butterfly catching nets and measured 100 foot segments to conduct the experiment with. I felt it was a hard task as I do not like bugs and insects besides butterflies and ladybugs, but I did manage to catch a grasshopper, and I failed to catch a monarch butterfly as it flew above me.
After the activities, we drew maps of how we would build a park and convince a panel to fund the build.
A habitat assessment is needed as architects because you need to learn the area you want to construct in so you can properly accommodate for the people who live close and animals live there.
Programs like these help the community and others learn history and have a space where they can get a hands on and engaging education.”
Randi Godley, WHSAD Senior
“Habitat assessment is the analysis of an area, with the purpose of gaining an understanding of its ecosystem to learn why that animal chose to inhabit that particular habitat. This process of examination is important within the architectural field because this knowledge gives the architect and others that want to construct within that area the information to come up with a structure that properly accommodates the living things within that area.
This skill is applied at Freshkills in the way that we went to the East Mound to figure out why a certain species of grasshopper decided to live there. We did it by making a transect of 100ft, a transect is a set area that no one can pass through, so that we have a controlled sample. My group collected a little at a time, stopping every 15 or 20ft. I think around the 75ft mark, we had a little collection various small spiders and flies. While looking through the bag of what we got because it seemed to be a whole lot of grass, I realized that we caught a Praying Mantis. Mr. Ricker identified it as a Chinese Praying Mantis, thanks to a certain spot on the bottom. Chinese Praying Mantises are an invasive species that were introduced to the United States when someone accidentally released them in a garden nursery, but they continued to spread as an alternative to pesticides. The only type of Mantis that New York gets is the Carolina Mantis, the only species native to Northern United States- so why was there a Chinese Mantis then? The samples would be sent to Rutgers University to figure out that exact question.
Doing this activity reminded me of my sophomore year where we designed our own homes, but before we could do that, we had to research the culture, people and architecture of the city we chose. Habitat assessment feels like it would be the next step of that process, as you are not only learning about the people but also animals. Programs that allow people to go outside and get into nature are vital to the community and we really need more of them. For students who are interested in environmental architecture, botany, biology or entomology it gives them more experience and helps ease that transition from school to work, it also gives students that my not necessarily be interested in such things a way to burn off their energy, and allows them to be more active in their communities and within their own lives.”