Fresh Kills

November 11th, 2009 -

The Fresh Kills Landfill was once the largest landfill in the world. Situated on the west coast of Staten Island, it could "be seen with the naked eye from space" and was "taller then the Statue of Liberty" according to a study from Brooklyn College, while Wikipedia claims it may have been "the largest man-made structure on Earth." The landfill opened in 1948, according to The Department of Parks & Recreation, and grew by "29,000 tons of trash per day" at its peak, swelling to "approximately 150 million tons of solid waste" before closing down in 2001. Its 2,200 acres are now part of an extremely ambitious 30-year-plan to turn this dump into "the largest park developed in New York City in over 100 years."

Despite this epic history, Fresh Kills is now a rather quiet and serene site. Its landscape has more in common with a western prairie then with Staten Island's heavily forested hills. Low scrub brush, a few scattered trees and winding dirt roads look out on Fresh Kills itself, which is a peaceful freshwater stream meandering between man-made hills. Deer and osprey have made this their home.

Unlike the breached landfill of Dead Horse Bay, there is no garbage visible at the Fresh Kills site. Most of its trash mounds have been capped. However, as the eye becomes accustomed to the vast, seemingly empty landscape, it begins to pick out anomalous details. A complex system of passive vents, gas extraction wells and flare stations dot the hills. Designed to harvest or burn off the noxious gasses building up beneath the landfill's shell, they are a constant reminder of the area's hidden toxicity. If not for these reminders of the man-made origins of this unnatural wasteland, Fresh Kills would be a beautiful estuary.

No section of Fresh Kills Park will be open to the public before 2010, although occasional bus tours are sometimes offered by the parks department.

Note: These photographs were taken at the invitation of the New York City Parks and Recreation Department. They were subsequently presented at two lectures sponsored by the Parks & Rec Department. The first, at the Metropolitan Exchange, was titled "Picturing New York City's Post-Industrial Waterfont" and the second, co-sponsored by The Council on the Arts and Humanities for Staten Island, was titled "The Post-Industrial Shores of Staten Island."

Fresh Kills Mound

Vanishing Dirt Roads

Vibrant Bushes

Osprey and Passive Vent

Methane Extraction Well

Manhattan Views

Flare Station Horizon

Flare Station Platform

Glowing Harvest

Fresh Kills

Nautical Elements

Safety Block

Cross and Ivy


  1. Love it! As a former resident of SI, I can say that restoring this to some of its original state is a great thing, although who can really say whats still lurking underneath? It was established before the water table was protected by impermeable barriers so all of that gunk will eventually leach out into the surrounding wetlands and wildlife.

    PS I think that osprey is really a Northern Harrier.

  2. What a fascinating place. I did a bit of preliminary research on Fresh Kills a few years ago for a doc in Canada and always wanted to check it out, but you beat me to it. I'm fascinated by the idea of a supposedly natural landscape dotted with all these vents, wells and flare stations (!!). A totally regulated environment that just appears natural.

    If the above commenter is right, though, who knows what's to come in the years ahead.


  3. Hi Yojimbot,

    While the landfill started prior to modern landfill regulations, the site was retrofitted with sophisticated infrastructure to contain, collect, and treat the leachate system that is produced as the waste decomposes. For a full explanation of the landfill infrastructure system, please visit the Freshkills Park website.

  4. Sorry, here's the link:

  5. great photos,great idea,wish all the best from Poland

  6. It is very interesting for me to read this article. Thank you for it. I like such topics and everything that is connected to this matter. I would like to read more on that blog soon.

  7. You enter these locations with your soft hands.You don't know where you are.Fresh Kills is sacred land to the American Union man that raised his family there.You should all get out!A man lost his leg in that gypsy room that you call Cross and Ivy.You step all over it
    Fresh Kills should be left alone!