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I love this wonderful NYT feature about Freshkills park on Staten Island, written by Robert Sullivan and beautifully illustrated with Jade Doskow’s photogrpahs.
The park, I learn, used to be one of the world’s largest garbage dumps, a city unto itself with piles of stinking refuse 20 stories high. It made an even larger swath of New York City unlivable through its byproducts of poisons, vermin, and indescribable miasmas.
In early 2001, after over fifty years of operation as a dump, Freshkills received its last shipment of trash. It then began an amazing and carefully planned transformation, a true geo-engineering project. Next year — twenty years on — it will open to the public as a lush, beautiful park.
The rotting garbage from generations past remains at the core of these grassy new earthworks. Through waste-recapture technology, the park represents not just a single act of transformation, but a continuous one, turning the garbage’s limitness methane into heat and energy, and making that available to the nearby grid. What was once a monumental eyesore has become both a place worth visiting and the source of some New Yorker’s next hot tea.
The story makes me feel amazed and impressed and a little sad. This reads like someone’s fantasy for how things ought to be, or could have been, and not a real project of successful long-term thinking that has actually succeeded. Reading the same newspaper’s front-section headlines day after day, one can’t help but see any possibility for a greener future, one that requires more than a little bit of work and patience, inexorably slipping away — the victim of a civilization-wide focus on tomorrow only, and seldom the day after.
Does this story give me hope? I don’t know about that. It certainly does compel me to stop and reconsider the possible, in light of this new evidence of the actual.
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