The machines that were used to move around trash were originally designed for the mining industry: huge monsterlike diggers, one of which, courtesy of the Sanitation Department, is being dismantled so that it can be moved beneath the West Shore Expressway and stationed along the road. From the jaws of the old tool will dangle the first sign to announce the new park; it will be Field Operations–style graphically cool. It will also announce the beginning of the work of reimagining that the public has to do. “One of the biggest things about Fresh Kills,” says Corner, “is that there are so many bureaucracies and entities involved. And there’s no king, there’s no mayor, there’s no one individual. Whatever happens is going to be a collective. You’ve got to continually mediate conflicting interests.” The most complicated part of the design is the idea that it is designed to change. “Large parks will always exceed singular narratives,” Corner wrote in a recent essay. “They are larger than the designer’s will for authorship.” He added, “The trick is to design a large park framework that is sufficiently robust to lend structure and identity while also having sufficient pliancy and ‘give’ to adapt to changing demands and ecologies over time.” Early on, people were saying there should not be a park there. There were the health and safety issues that people thought were insurmountable. Now it appears to be a given that there will be a park there, and that it will be different somehow. “I think people get it,” says Eloise Hirsh, the park administrator.
Very few urban parks compare to Fresh Kills in terms of size. The smaller Bois de Boulogne comes to mind, as does Amsterdamse Bos, the man-made woods adjacent to Amsterdam. In St. Louis, Forest Park is bigger than Central Park but about half the size of what Fresh Kills is slated to be. What it will be is as significant as what it was in the past, so that there is some kind of a moral, a teaching moment, buried in the new Fresh Kills idea, even if Corner doesn’t want to say so: If we learn how to make a dump into something else, something that’s still somehow related to a dump, then we might make better dumpers in the future, and we will think differently or just think about how and when we fill the land. Fresh Kills is like forest succession on a simultaneously human and industrial basis, like a nurse log in the woods, where one plant moves in on the back of another, where one use is superseded by another, one layer of ideas on top of the last. Walking around, you can think about these things, and feel a kind of excitement, and then all of the sudden get freaked out by a feral cat and wonder where the hell it came from.