FRESH KILLS LANDFILL, STATEN ISLAND, NY, USA
with Tom Leader Studio, Berkeley, CA
Two attributes of Fresh Kills inspire our emphasis on starting points and inquiry rather than master plan and program as means of transforming this controversial site. The first is its nature, both material and representational. The mounds constructed here over a period of fifty-odd years contain the dark side of New York City's cosmopolitan matter, settling and unsettling in ways (physical, political, and ecological) that are hardly predictable except in the most abstract terms. Society, acting through science, legislation and technology, is positioned here to be surprised and to discover rather than to be in command and control. That the mounds sit on wetlands, a valued ecosystem today, says that we know better than to agree with Robert Moses, New York's Commissioner of Parks who authorized the landfill in the late 1940s on what most saw then as a bug-infested wasted land. But it also suggests that Fresh Kills is a frontier. As much as we would like to position ourselves at the end of history, believing that we have the right view of the land and therefore the right solutions, we are in a radically transformative learning process. This however does not necessarily admit uncertainty and indeterminacy. The disposition at the frontier is one of intrinsic wonder and inquiry. It leads us to encourage living lightly on Fresh Kills, lightly meaning not with lesser means but with agility and tenacity, by a process that is experimental and engaging, learning and evolving, constructive and flexible.
The second attribute of Fresh Kills that we value is its material diversity. Fresh kills is much more than the garbage that controls its identity and today, fosters a separation between wetlands and landfill to fan a popular dichotomy variously articulated as nature and culture, ecology and utility, wilderness and city. The authorization of the landfill closure (and design competition that followed) has played up this dichotomy as green future versus brown past, Staten Island Community versus New York City, landscape versus landfill. Rather than take sides or mediate these divides, we choose to situate Fresh Kills in a longue dureé of diverse debris depositions that extend the depth of the site beyond landfill. These depositions—crushed rock of the Cameron's line between proto-continents, glacial till, marsh detritus, household garbage, and World Trade Center remains—blur the boundaries of Fresh Kills as we ‘know' it. They also suggest a choice of starting points of inquiries, which through the material engagement that they inspire and the publics they construct, become the means of transforming Fresh Kills.