Reinventing Staten Island - Issue 62: Systems

Reinventing Staten Island - Issue 62: Systems

When the Dutch arrived in New York Harbor in 1609, Staten Island—or Staaten Eylandt, as they named it—was a wild wonderland, woodland in the middle and tidal salt marsh on the edges, populated by the local Lenape tribe, plus an embarrassment of natural riches: eels, bluefish, bitterns, herons, muskrats, ducks, clams, crabs, wild turkeys, porpoises, and more. Jutting midway into the island from the west coast, like a hook in the island’s side, was the Fresh Kills estuary, a tidal wetland thriving with plants and critters, created by the retreat of the Wisconsin Ice Sheet some 17,000 years ago.

After World War II, the bursting city of New York found itself with a trash problem. In 1948, the city started officially dumping its trash into the marshes and waters of Fresh Kills. What became America’s first landfill was meant to be temporary, but it stuck. By 1955, it was the biggest landfill in the world—indeed, at 2,700 acres, it was the biggest human-made structure in the world. By 1991, the landfill contained 150 million tons of tightly packed garbage in more volume than could fill the Great Wall of China. Fresh Kills was wetland no more.

The landfill serviced New…
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