'Fresh Kills is to the 21st century as Central Park was to the nineteenth,” says Parks Commissioner Benepe. “It will be the largest park built in the city in more than 100 years.” By 2016, New Yorkers will be able to mountain-bike, kayak, hike, cross-country ski, fish, and bird-watch in what is perhaps the unlikeliest home for such an effusion of West Coast outdoorspersonship: Staten Island.
“Staten Island has been the place people drive through on their way to somewhere else,” says James Corner of Field Operations, landscape architects for the 2,200-acre Fresh Kills Lifescape (as well as the High Line), the radical evolution of despised landfill into the most desirable Saturday-afternoon destination.
But all it takes is a gateway flanked by wind turbines to change all that. The Staten Island Expressway will become the main north-south artery of a four-part park, each landfill mound capped and transformed into a different, rugged, evocative landscape. As you drive south along Route 440, your first view will be of the meadows of the north mound, its rounded peak topped with kite-fliers. At the confluence of Fresh Kills and Main Creek, a ring road will take you to the activity center: the Creek Landing, with a sloping concrete boat launch and event lawn, and the Point, its urbane counterpart, with a water’s-edge promenade of restaurants, art installations, and outdoor markets. It is here that the ferry from Battery Park, an hour away, will dock.
Those turbines (a meteorological tower is currently testing the wind) are key to the story Corner wants to tell—and the reason behind the pretentious term lifescape. This isn’t meant to be a landscape, pretty as a picture, but land at work. Methane will continue to be harvested from the landfill under the park’s rough-and-tumble meadows, forests, and marshes. As its emissions taper off, the winds will take over as a minor revenue generator. Corner also thinks the park will attract its share of eco- and archi-tourism. Parts of the park will be open starting in 2008 (pending this year’s environmental review). By 2016, the north and south sections, plus the activity centers, should all be built out.
“The park is not only green and beautiful but also emblematic of a huge 21st-century reclamation—that’s what’s important here,” Corner says. “It is the contemporary sense of healing the Earth as a technological notion.” The park will have an explicit educational component—a marsh interpretive center in the east park, as well as a stunning September 11 memorial (also part of phase one) in the west park: two World Trade Center–size mounds laid out on the ground, with a view of the Freedom Tower from the top.