Freshkills Park Blog

Mount Trashmore Park, Virginia Beach, VA

Yes, its official name is Mount Trashmore Park. Virginia Beach is home to one of the earliest conversions of a contemporary sanitary landfill to parkland in the US.  The 165-acre site operated for many years as a landfill for waste originating from all over the east coast.  High costs of filling and limited capacity led to the landfill’s closure by 1971.  Guided by the vision of the director of Virginia’s Department of Health, conversion to parkland proceeded until 1973, when the site was opened to the public.  The park now boasts 1.5 miles of trails, picnic grounds, playgrounds, basketball and volleyball courts, two man-made lakes for fishing and a 24,000-square-foot skate park.  It is one of Virginia’s most popular parks, attracting approximately 1 million visitors annually.

Groundwater testing at the site has shown no impact from landfill operations.  Landfill gas is collected by underground infrastructure–but unlike the Freshkills Park site, the gas at Mount Trashmore is not harvested for energy; it is released at synchronized intervals.

May 19, 2010 Posted by | FKP | , , , | Leave a comment

Stearns Quarry Park, Chicago IL

Photo by find a city to live in via flickr

27-acre Stearns Quarry Park opened in 2009 in the Bridgeport neighborhood of Chicago.  The site was used as a limestone quarry from 1833 to 1969 by the Illinois Stone and Lime Company, after which it served as a municipal landfill: from 1969 to 1974, dirt, gravel, brick and construction debris were delivered to the site, filling the hole excavated by mining operations.

Guided by a design produced by site design group and landscape architecture firm D.I.R.T. Studio, the City of Chicago began park construction in 2005.  As at the Freshkills Park site, coupling landfill closure and park construction required compliance with state regulations about, among other things, topsoil cleanliness and depth.  More than 40,000 cubic yards of topsoil were imported to the site.  Hundreds of trees were planted.  Boardwalks over wetland areas were made of recyled plastic and wood.  A stormwater containment system was constructed to catch and treat water before channeling it into the park’s wetlands and pond.

The completed park features a fishing pond and fountain, athletic fields, running paths, a hiking and sledding mound, public event space, a host of native plantings and related birds and wildlife, and an exhibited collection of 400 million-year-old fossils of aquatic animals.  The Chicago Park District has put together an MP3 audio tour of the park, guided by a planner and historian, who reviews the site’s history and its current features.

April 16, 2010 Posted by | FKP | , , , | 2 Comments

Gas Works Park, Seattle WA

Gas Works Park in Seattle, WA is located on the 19.1-acre site of a former Seattle Gas Light Company coal gasification plant.  The plant opened in 1906 and closed in 1956 when the City switched to natural gas.  The site was abandoned for several years until the City purchased it in 1962; a design combining elements of historic preservation and park design was commissioned from landscape architect Richard Haag in the early 1970s.

The design was remarkable, especially at the time, for retaining and showcasing original infrastructure of the abandoned gas production facilities.  (The site now hosts the last extant remnants of coal gasification plants in the US.)  Various industrial facilities within the park were converted for new uses: the boiler house, which provided steam for gasification and compressors, became a picnic shelter; the pump house, which pumped gas throughout the facility and to customers, became the play barn; the smoke arrestor hood outside the pump house became a play structure for climbing.

An early brownfield reclamation project, the site’s soil and ground water were cleaned up through bioremediation before the site could be opened for public use.  Per state and federal requirements, waste was also removed and/or capped, and air in a portion of the site was sparged to remove benzene.  The park opened in 1975 and has been well used and loved since; today it hosts one of Seattle’s largest Fourth of July fireworks events.

April 6, 2010 Posted by | FKP | , , , | Leave a comment

Sherbourne Park, another water treatment hybrid

As part of its waterfront redevelopment plan, multi-governmental agency Waterfront Toronto is currently in construction of Sherbourne Park, a $28 million storm water treatment facility and public park, near the Lake Ontario shore.  Much of the water treatment infrastructure will be visible to park visitors, making more transparent the purification process through features like an ultraviolet treatment pavilion, dramatic channelizing sculptures and biofiltration beds.

The facility’s design has been led by planning, urban design and landscape architecture firm Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg and illustrates, like Freshkills Park, the increased level of collaboration that is becoming more common around large infrastructure projects between engineers, landscape architects and planners.

There are two park sites in New York City that are also sited atop water filtration plants, though neither showcase water filtration quite as prominently:  Riverbank State Park sits atop a wastewater treatment facility, and the in-construction Croton Water Filtration Plant in the Bronx’s Van Cordlant Park sites a golf course and green roof atop a drinking water filtration facility.

(via The Dirt)

March 31, 2010 Posted by | FKP | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Danehy Park, Cambridge MA

Photo by RajRem via flickr.

Mayor Thomas W. Danehy Park in Cambridge, Massachusetts is a 50-acre site with a similar history to the Freshkills Park site: clay deposits onsite attracted brick manufacturing uses in the 19th century; wet, low ground led to landfilling operations in the mid-20th century; local activism and political pressure led to late 20-th century landfill closure and, ultimately, to park construction.

Danehy’s landfill operations ceased in the 1970s, after which, the site was used as a staging area for subway line extension by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) through the 1980s.  It was developed as parkland and opened to the public in 1990.  Today, it is the largest park in the City of Cambridge and hosts softball fields, soccer fields, multi-use paths, two acres of thriving wetland habitat and public art installations by Mierle Laderman Ukeles (who is also creating public artwork for Freshkills Park).  Unlike the Freshkills Park site, there is no landfill gas collection system at Danehy Park, though extensive geotechincal engineering has been performed to ensure public safety.  Landfill gas emissions and settlement continue to be monitored onsite.  The City of Cambridge has issued a nicely-illustrated brochure about the site’s history and systems.

March 2, 2010 Posted by | FKP | , , | Leave a comment

Northala Fields Park

When we first caught sight of London’s Northala Fields Park, which opened in May 2008, the similarity in topography to Fresh Kills set off instant recognition–this is filled land.  The park’s construction included the creation of four man-made hills filled with construction debris from local projects including the redevelopment of Wembley Stadium and the construction of a nearby shopping center.  Transport of this waste to the Northala site saved considerable money over its export to a remote landfill, and the corresponding £6 million went to supporting park development.  Almost everything on the site is recycled from the original construction sites–paths, piers, soil.  The tallest mound stands 84 feet high.

The design is by London-based Form Associates.  Landscape-gawking blog Vulgare has put together a handsome collection of photos of the site scoured from various online sources.

February 3, 2010 Posted by | FKP | , , , , | 1 Comment

Canadian landfill to be world’s largest pollinator park

Honeybee (Apis mellifera), photo by macropoulos via flickr

City planners in Guelph, Ontario have approved a master plan to transform a 200-acre decommissioned landfill into the world’s largest pollinator park.  The former Eastview Road Landfill, which operated as a municipal dump from 1961 to 2003, has been capped and outfitted with a methane capturing system that converts landfill gas into usable energy.  Filled land, which constitutes about half the site, will host some recreational amenities but primarily shrub and meadow plantings that provide habitat for pollinator species such as bees, butterflies, bats and birds.  These species are surprisingly vital to food production: pollination research suggests that three out of four flowering plants require animal pollinators in order to produce seed and fruit.

Pollinator populations have been in decline in recent years.  Honeybees, in particular, have experienced what beekeepers call “colony collapse disorder“; other causes for decline include pesticide misuse, light and air pollution, hive destruction and farming practices that destroy habitat.

In conjunction with non-profit group Pollination Guelph, the city is developing a plant palette with a wide enough range of blooming seasons to accommodate both early and late pollinators.  Other park amenities include toboggan runs, a trail network, demonstration gardens, basketball and volleyball courts, soccer and football fields, a natural ice rink and a playground.

December 11, 2009 Posted by | FKP | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment


Technicolor poison, image by Julie Bargmann.

Images by Julie Bargmann showcase the site's acid mine drainage and how its passive water treatment ponds now filter out contaminants.

Another poster child for the reclamation of disturbed lands: AMD&ART Park in Vintondale, PA.  By the mid-’90s, coal mining in this part of Appalachia had resulted in severe acid mine drainage (AMD) into waterways and general public resignation to a major environmental hazard.  A long-neglected 35-acre site that had hosted both a coal mining operation and a town dump was particularly riddled with AMD and caught the imagination of historic preservationist T. Allan Comp.  Over the following 10 years, and with the eventual financial support of the EPA, Comp brought together a diverse group of residents, scientists, artists, and volunteers in an effort to use art and ecological design to rehabilitate the contaminated land and return it into the custody of the local community.

Open since 2005, AMD&ART Park includes picnic areas, baseball and soccer fields and a volleyball court; a series of passive water treatment ponds that progressively draws contaminants out of the site’s water; seven acres of now-vibrant wetlands that thrive on the treated water; and various ecological art installations that reflect on the site’s history and transformation, including a native tree arboretum called “Litmus Garden” whose trees range in fall foliage to mirror the colors of the water at each stage of the treatment system (red, orange and yellow, green and white).  The park recently won a prestigious Phoenix Award for excellence in brownfield remediation and redevelopment.  This 2007 article in Orion Magazine offers a more complete narrative about the site and its transformation.

(via Pruned)

August 10, 2009 Posted by | FKP | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Steven Handel on urban restoration ecology

For our Freshkills Park Talk two weeks back, Dr. Steven Handel shared insights into the emerging field of urban restoration ecology, which focuses on the challenge of bringing ecological diversity back to degraded lands like brownfields and landfills.  He discussed his research at the Freshkills Park site and others in the region and went on to describe how his expertise has informed the design of Orange County, CA’s Great Park.

Much of his discussion centered around concepts of ecological sustainability.  Some key takeaways: At a site as large as Freshkills Park, it would be costly and unsustainable to plant and maintain the type of landscape found in a more traditional park landscape like Central Park.  Dr. Handel emphasized the bang-for-buck of planting small, pioneer clusters of trees and shrubs that could attract bees and birds, which act as pollinators and seed spreaders.  He also detailed the value of mosaic plant populations, in which some species can thrive while others shrink in response to evolving conditions.  In the face of climate change, this adaptability, he said, would be essential for park resilience over time.

The talk covered much more.  We’re grateful to Dr. Handel and to the big crowd that came out to hear him speak.  Below are a few audio highlights.  Each is 3 to 5 minutes long.

handelslide3Clip 1: The  “ecological services” and other benefits provided by green, sustainable landscapes.

handelslide2Clip 2: On Dr. Handel’s soil restoration work in the New Jersey Meadowlands.

handelslide1Clip 3: The importance of pollinators and the challenge of aligning engineering goals with ecological goals.

July 13, 2009 Posted by | FKP | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Steel mill to wind farm

bethlehem steel

The 30-acre Bethlehem Steel Mill on Lake Erie was in operation for almost 80 years and was closed in the mid-1970s.  Contaminated with steel slag and industrial waste, the site was idle for 30 years.  In May 2002, the EPA awarded the City of Lackawanna a $200,000 grant to investigate the site’s potential for reuse.  It was ultimately developed into a wind farm, limiting the excavation of contaminated soil (the site remains closed to the public) and making use of existing power transmission infrastructure.  BQ Energy, UPC Wind and the City of Lackawanna chose 2.5 MW wind turbines developed by Clipper Windpower.  8 turbines were installed, generating 50 KWh worth of wind energy and powering 9,000 homes annually.

June 9, 2009 Posted by | FKP | , , , | Leave a comment