Segregation Over Safety:
Suburbanization of Staten Island Via Fresh Kills Landfill (1948-2021)
by J. Lopez
Staten Island, or in more legal terms Richmond County, used to house the largest landfill in the world, opened in 1948. Fresh Kills Landfill was one of humanities biggest blemishes on our planet. The title of largest landfill in the world lasted from 1951 to the closing of Fresh Kills, in 2001. Fresh Kills was very busy, with the last barge of waste contained the toxic rubble and dust from the World Trade Center. All manner of toxic substances have been dumped in Fresh Kills throughout the years, with significant cleanup efforts in recent years. There are many questions surrounding the reasoning behind the worlds largest landfill being a short ferry ride away from the Big Apple. What was the purpose in creating the landfill? Why was the location of the landfill a white dominated suburb, an atypical location for waste sites. Most importantly to the specific case is, how did this landfill, shape the image Staten Island as it is known today. The answers to these questions should be representative of other situations across the country. Where city planning and development often jeopardize ecological safety and the wellbeing of citizens in favor of white dominating suburbanization.
Introduction: Staten Island’s Scar
2012, it’s a breezy autumn afternoon on Staten Island, my mother is taking me across the Goethals bridge to New Jersey. As we drive down the West Shore Expressway, one of three main highways on the island, we pass an ever familiar sight: rolling hills of yellow grass surrounding a river, and the road that bridges over it. This view was all too common in my suburban home; it was visible driving to the mall or when we would stop for gas or visiting a family friend who lived in the neighborhood just beneath them. Upon realizing how often I’ve seen the yellow mountains of grass , curiosity overcame me , “How would you even get to those hills?” I asked my mother. “Oh there? That’s the old dump, you used to be able to see it from space! Now they’re making it into a park or something.” Despite my question not being answered, my young mind was processing what she said, and the nature of my home was put into a disgusting perspective. Amidst my turmoil a new question was forming: ‘who put it there?’
The dump my mother spoke of was the Fresh Kills Landfill -a monumental piece of human refuse and waste that held the grand title of largest dump in the world for roughly fifty years, much to the chagrin of residents. Closed shortly after 9/11, the landfill had undergone cleanup in order to be converted to a park. Fresh Kills park- trash piles with grass on them marking a terraforming project of unsettling proportion- opened in September of 2012. Most importantly, Fresh Kills lies in direct proximity to a vast suburbia, with houses being a few blocks away on one side and a few miles away on the other.
Now, most of this isn’t alarming to the modern Staten Islander- it’s normal, and we’ve lived with it our whole lives. The dangers and health effects this has on residents are all things that have been or are currently being investigated. But what about Fresh Kill’s effect on the development of Staten Island? Being the only NYC county with a white population1[i] over 50%, Staten Island is the estranged cousin of the New York boroughs. Could Fresh Kills have been a cause for this demographic anomaly amongst the New York boroughs? From its start in 1948, Fresh Kills was used as a tool by various politicians to form Staten Island into the predominantly white suburbia that it is today.
In order to delve deeper into such a claim we must look backwards, to the opening of the landfill. The original plan for the Fresh Kills Landfill was unclear, and as a result, deliberations as to what would happen with NYC trash lasted for around 20 years. During this period, Commissioner William F. Carey of the Sanitation Department would be the unpopular proponent for dumping on Staten Island. Underhanded political movements were commonplace, with politicians such as borough president Cornelius Hall being quite the fickle character. Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority Chairman, Robert Moses- a man touted as the “master builder” of New York City – was the main proponent of creating the “finalized” plan for Fresh Kills. Robert Moses wanted to use this project to develop more of what he is known for: parkland, highways and industry.
The Ever Changing Plans for New York’s Trash
If we’re going to analyze the details regarding the planning of Fresh Kills, we must first look back to the Garbage Wars of the 1910’s. Prior to Fresh Kills opening in 1948, the city had been in need of a solution to their decades-long garbage. The handling of waste was too slow for the city, and in the mid 1910’s, NYC was trying to find an answer. After much deliberation, the Board of Estimate approved a new resource recovery plant at “Fresh Kills Meadows”. This was in a concession to the mayor’s friend William H. Reynolds, who “was once to suburban development what Donald Trump later was to the world of hotels and towers”[ii]. By 1917, the plant opened, and by 1918 it was shut down, declared a nuisance by the New York City Board of Health. Garbage still needed to be disposed of, so the city turned to incineration for two decades. With the combined forces of the Great Depression, high repair costs, and rampant air pollution, city favor with incinerators plummeted from ~1937-1944. Talks of a landfill were returning, and a major push lasting from 1937-1938 resulted in a 1940 sanction by the Department of Sanitation (DSNY). Landfills, therefore, seemed to be the inevitable path that the city was taking.[iii]
Once a landfill was decided upon, the plan for its creation was to be made and sold to the public. There were two city salesmen that did the deed: Commissioner of the DSNY William F. Carey and Parks Commissioner Robert Moses – the latter of whom was quite the insidious character. While neither could agree on a plan, they both knew that selling the idea of a landfill to the public after the previous “Garbage Wars” would be difficult. Late in 1938, after some protests and heated board meetings, Staten Island was settled on- and contrary to what the public was told, Fresh Kills was the favored location. Moses was publicly avoiding any relation to this plan, claiming at a board meeting that the project for Fresh Kills “was entirely new to me and to the engineers who have been working with me.” Contrary to this, evidence suggests that Moses was the one to suggest landfilling in Fresh Kills in 1937[iv].
Throughout the proceedings to try and iron out the plan for the city’s garbage, Carey and Moses had publicly opposing viewpoints. For months of board meetings, the two would feud back and forth, with Carey being publicly in support of the landfill and Moses beating around the bush. According to Martin Melosi, Moses would imply that “dumping without any notice to anybody concerned on an area arbitrarily picked out by the Sanitation Department” was unacceptable.[v] This is, of course, while drafting plans for bridges to be built on a filled-in Fresh Kills. Underhanded politicking such as this marks a battle of information Moses would fight against Commissioner Carey in order to skew the public opinion in his favor. On October 11th 1938, as time was running thin, Carey stated that if alternatives in Jamaica Bay would close off, the DSNY would begin operations in Fresh Kills. Moses covered his tracks by stating “As far as Staten Island is concerned I am going to oppose anything that is going to be harmful to the park system.” In their feud for control over the particulars of the garbage operation, Moses had managed to negatively manipulate public opinion of Carey. Moses was placing himself as a man trying to make the best out of a bad situation for the people. Carey was taken aback by the tactics of his rival, calling Moses a “propagandist with no regard for the truth and a builder of monuments to himself.”[vi]
At this point, Moses found support for another project through his manipulation of Staten Islanders and the needs of NYC. He had used the garbage issue to justify a separate, smaller landfill nearing completion in 1944, making reclaimed land for Great Kills Park just across the island. This is, of course, where in the public eye, Moseshad Carey take the fall for the landfill’s many expected issues. A slew of events were soon to follow, and on July 7th 1945, the Staten Island Advance published a story leaking the Park and Sanitation Department’s plans for Fresh Kills Landfill[vii]. It was a very unpopular prospect amongst Staten Islanders, and while Moses was trying to approach cautiously in order to stay in good favor, he was set on the plan. In a correspondence with Deputy Mayor George E. Spargo on January 7th 1946, Moses made clear that he wanted to “revive the Fresh Kills plan.” They were to proceed with the extensive dumping of fill and waste to transform the salt marshes into parkland, parkways, and other profitable endeavors[viii].
The City Planning Commission approved a DSNY request, and preliminary plans for acquiring the land at Fresh Kills were finally being drafted. This was performed at a public hearing, held in the fall of 1945, and met with a healthy amount of local protesters. This led to Borough President Cornelius A. Hall falling in line and fighting against the planning commission. The Board of Estimates followed suit and struck the item from the capital outlay budget of the city for 1946. That is, until June 1946, when the Board of Estimate promptly reversed its stance in a less public meeting[ix], advocated for by one Robert Moses. Another surprising figure to turn their view of the facility around was Borough President Hall, who now staunchly supported the move[x]. The change came to Hall’s heart when he realized that he was in charge of the island’s “economic destiny.” “I am firmly convinced that a limited landfill project can be undertaken at Fresh Kills,” and thus, he announced “a project which would prove of great value to the island through the reclamation of valuable land from now worthless salt marshlands.”
Hall and Moses were now in cahoots – cohorts in seeking out this new ambitious suburban development plot. An expressway along the west shore of the island, across a small bridge, was already being planned by Moses. While Hall had expected the landfill to last only a few years, Moses had estimated from the beginning that the landfill would take several more years. By November 1951, Moses spoke of goals for when the Landfill would be finished, which was estimated to be about 1968[xi].
Suburbanization of the Swampland
There was a common theme among all of Robert Moses’ projects which was made clear by his many titles. Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority Chairman, Jones Beach Parkway Authority President, and Commissioner of the Department of Parks – these mark only three of twelve official titles held by Moses. Moses held the beauty of the city and the use of the automobile above all, as his biographer Robert A. Caro put it, Moses was “the world’s most vocal, effective and prestigious apologist for the automobile.”[xii] Indeed, Moses was responsible for a staggering number of parkway and bridge constructions throughout New York City, and his work at Fresh Kills would look to be no different. One such project was an expressway set to cut through the filled land of Fresh Kills: “The West Shore highway is a vital segment of the network of roads planned for Staten Island and has been on the city’s master plan… since 1947.” While Moses’ name wasn’t plastered onto this work, from the beginning “a joint study by the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority and the Port of New York Authority found it ‘imperative’.”[xiii] Moses had already been planning a bridge rooted on filled land back in 1937, so these plans were simply extensions of his overarching idea for the project.
All of these projects were commonplace for the turn of the era – the time of the automobile was here, and Moses was its most staunch defender. However,there are some glaringly obvious issues with the widespread proliferation of massive expressways and other such automobile infrastructure, with public transport being neglected as a direct result of these monumental projects. “The car would become a prerequisite for survival… the suburbs became abjectly dependent on a vehicle that demanded ever larger resources in terms of street space, parking facilities and traffic patrols.”[xiv] Staten Island was no exception – even in the modern day, there exists only a single rail line on the island. Post Fresh Kills Staten Island would only be leaning further into this trend, with Robert Moses spearheading this development trend of the island. Thus,even though Staten Island was woefully undeveloped, its citizens still needed cars for even the most basic aspects of survival.
The effect this had on keeping the poor out of Staten Island was greatly exacerbated by another malicious practice that continues even into the modern day. While homeownership was skyrocketing pre-1930, as the Great Depression hit, many people had to foreclose and default on their mortgages. The Home Owners Loan Corporation (HOCL), an organization signed into law by FDR in 1933, was made to address this issue. The HOCL refinanced mortgages and granted loans at low interest rates to homeowners. However, some states had very high foreclosure rates even after the HOCL’s assistance, so the organization had to create a method of prioritizing. This is where a dreaded practice that would plague marginalized communities for years to come was implemented. By dividing cities into separate neighborhoods and using questionnaires that separated them by occupation, income, and ethnicity, the HOCL created a ranking system of “safe and unsafe” loan targets[xv]. This practice is known as red-lining.
1938 Staten Island Residential Security Map. Source: Mapping Inequality
By inspecting this HOCL map from 1938, we can find out how the people of Staten Island were graded and classified. The North shore has the majority of the red (or D-class) neighborhoods, being rated as such due to Italian residents. As during this time Italians were not under the purview of “whiteness”, they were a marginalized group of New York City. The “I” shaped neighborhood D3, Tomkinsville, New Brighton at the top was rated as such due to the presence of Jewish, Italian, and African American residents. On the other hand, Todt Hill, neighborhood A3, the largest swatch of bright green on the map, was favorable. The factors going into these ratings were the percentage of Foreign-born families, percentage of “Negro”, and the “Infiltration” of any ethnic group deemed un-American. The majority of the declining areas, or the yellow, were Scandinavian and Nordic immigrants, with the neighborhoods they live in being predicted to turn red. These people – all of the residents living in these yellow and red neighborhoods – would not easily be able to receive loans from banks and own homes of their own.[xvi]
If the marginalized groups of the Island – and for that matter, the rest of the city – could not get loans to own a home of their own, then what would they do? Even if they could just barely afford a home with a meager loan, they would still need a car to live on Staten Island, along with the maintenance and gas costs that came with it. So as Staten Island suburbanized, the groups that would have access to reap the benefits would only shrink.
Robert Moses: The Spearhead of the Elite
Throughout the many years of changing plans, suburbanization efforts, and the many political fouls committed in the effort to push Fresh Kills Landfill into existence, one man was always there. Robert Moses has seemingly been the main character of the story of Fresh Kills and Staten Island’s infamous redlining issue, planning the landfill, manipulating the public, and fighting to get what he wanted, despite its long term effects. This is why it’s ever so important to mention that Robert Moses held a great distaste for the poor, and other marginalized peoples of New York City. Moses would continuously go out of his way to try and keep his elite benefactors up, and poor minorities down.
During the Great Depression, under the mayorship of his friend Fiorello H. La Guardia, Moses was to construct a number of public pools and other bathing facilities. Subordinates of his would allege that Moses wanted the pools kept some degrees colder, as he believed that African Americans didn’t like cold water. While that’s baffling, it’s mostly harmless – unlike his plan for the Cross-Bronx Expressway, which went into motion shortly after the opening of the Fresh Kills Landfill. The plan for the expressway would send the road straight through the entire borough, regardless of neighborhood, throughway, or infrastructure of any kind. Among the many neighborhoods which had residents getting meagre checks to clear out of their homes was East Tremont, a poor Jewish community which also held a smaller African American and Puerto Rican population. 60,000 people lived in this small and crowded neighborhood, and the expressway was to cut through its heart.[xvii] Moses did not just perform acts such as these with necessity, but with glee, sitting through public hearings of displaced residents calling him anything from a tyrant to Hitler only saying, “You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs.” He would often say that performing his work in a massive urban environment required one to hack their way with a meat ax – as his biographer would say, “He didn’t just feel that he had to swing a meat ax. He loved to swing it.”
After review of these unequivocal truths of Robert Moses, it must be said that he is not entirely at fault. That is to say, he isn’t the only one to blame, despite his reprehensible demeanor . Moses held twelve positions – all official positions in the city government. However, not a single one was elected. Throughout his entire career, Moses was simply a tool for his elite benefactors, the Mayors he worked under, such as La Guardia, and any of their friends with deep pockets. His career was made in making monuments to show off his legacy, and revenue for the city, and none of this was done without oversight. So when one looks for someone to extract justice for the ghoulish actions of Commissioners such as Moses, never let them be used as a scapegoat – rats are social creatures after all.
Conclusions and the Island Moving Forward
As I drive home from college, crossing the Goethals Bridge, I tend to reminisce about the view outside of my window. I’ve been across the West Shore Expressway so many times throughout my life, now as the driver, crossing the bridge over Fresh Kill. It’s the same view as my childhood, but now through the lens of adult eyes. Staring off at the yellow grass and reeds along the hill, flush with the knowledge of what they are, why they’re there, and finally, how they got there. Through knowing about those hills, I know about who put it there, and why. These are just some of the few things that adorn the New York City landscape as a direct result of Moses’ famous projects . I know that me, my family, my friends, and my neighbors were all put at risk in order to build the bridge. As I get off at my exit, less than half a mile down from those hills, I realize that I may even know why I was ridiculed for my last name while growing up.
The tale of Fresh Kills Landfill, or at least the purpose behind it, began with the need for a solution to New York City’s garbage problem. Failed efforts in the first attempt at a garbage reduction plant in the same location delayed the planning of the soon to be fill. DSNY Commissioner William F. Carey was paired with the power hungry Commissioner Robert Moses in order to figure out the issue. After many years of deliberation and false plans, lies and manipulation, a change of mayors and the stepping down of Commissioner Carey, the plan was moving. Robert Moses remained, with an ever changing band of associates and backers, and was doing as he did best, getting what he wanted as he wanted it, manipulating and strong-arming the public to get it. With the help of Cornelius A. Hall and a fickle Board of Estimates, the funding for the Fresh Kills Landfill was acquired.
The project, set to finish in just a few years as a temporary landfill, was extended to an estimated 20 year total. Of course, this was false, as in the end, out of even Moses’ expectations, it would close after a whopping 53 years, in 2001. Springboarding off of the land which would be created by the project at Fresh Kills, the West Shore Expressway was created. A massive highway cutting through undeveloped Staten Island, which easily connected the North Shore and the South Shore while providing access to previously undeveloped land. The new projects, created off of the back of Fresh Kills, allowed Staten Island to be shaped into a suburban development, the likes of which were seen frequently at the dawn of the 20th century. While the development of Staten Island mainly occurred in the latter half of the 20th century, it was only due to the changes brought about by Robert Moses. The Master Builder of New York City did not commit to any project unless it would do one of the following things: add a grand monument to his legacy, bring great profit to the city, bring a smile to his rich benefactors faces, or crush the hopes and dreams of poor minorities. Thus, the prospect of bringing profit through the landfill, building a great expressway which was the first of its kind to the island, and allowing new housing that the poor and marginalized couldn’t access was a great one for him indeed.
To summarize what’s been said, this paper is a classic examination of a superfund site being utilized by a megalomaniac for their own gain. Fresh Kills Landfill was not only a terrible environmental atrocity, but a tool used to create the stifling suburbia that Staten Island is today. Perhaps the most shocking thing I learned while initially looking into the entire subject was that it was mostly led by one man. Even more importantly than that, all of this man’s tactics reflect things that happen in the modern day. Moses was known to be high handed and say things that were blatant lies, turning to supportive media and fanciful words to convince others that his was the just position. Much like many politicians today, he was also a sore loser, slandering his opposition in the case that his projects did not get funding, and attempting to ham-fistedly gain approval in any other way. Many superfund sites that get heavy media attention go through a similar process as Fresh Kills, with a strong man like Moses supporting them. Sites like Fresh Kills have a wide effect on the communities they ravage, perpetuating generational inequality under the pretext of growth under the support of malicious and avaricious pundits and politicians.
[i] “Www1.Nyc.gov,” accessed December 13, 2021, https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/planning/download/pdf/planning-level/nyc-population/census2020/dcp_2020-census-briefing-booklet-1.pdf.
[ii] Theodore Steinberg and Theodore Steinberg, “12 THE MASSIFS OF FRESH KILLS,” in Gotham Unbound: The Ecological History of Greater New York (New York: Simon et Schuster paperbacks, 2015).
[iii] Martin V. Melosi, “ONE BEST WAY,” in Fresh Kills: A History of Consuming and Discarding in New York City (New York: Columbia University Press, 2020), pp. 145-146.
[iv] Guy V. Molinari, “Manhattan BP Not Interested in Closing Fresh Kills Landfill,” Staten Island Advance, January 15, 1997.
[v] Martin V. Melosi, “ONE BEST WAY,” in Fresh Kills: A History of Consuming and Discarding in New York City (New York: Columbia University Press, 2020), pp. 159.
[vi] “Carey Says Moses Is A Propagandist,” The New York Times, October 11, 1938, pp. 27-27, https://nyti.ms/3ys0jt9.
[vii] Janice Kabel, “The Fresh Kills Landfill: Thank Robert Moses for Idea of Transforming Marsh to Park,” Staten Island Advance, October 2, 1978; Steinberg, Gotham Unbound, 244.
[viii] Memorandum to Mr. Spargo from Commissioner Moses, January 7, 1946, NYC Department of Parks, Office of the Commissioner, 1940– 1956, Box 107883, Folder 20, Department of Sanitation, 1946, City of New York, Department of Records and Information Services, Municipal Archives, New York City.
[ix] “Fresh Kills Dump Fund Again Put in Budget,” Staten Island Advance, June 9, 1946.
[x] “Moses and Hall,” Staten Island Advance, June 5, 1946.
[xi] “Big Opportunity for City Planning Is Seen in Landfill on Staten Island,” New York Times, November 26, 1951, pp. 25-25, https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1951/11/26/93199279.html?pageNumber=25.
[xii] Robert A. Caro, The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York (New York, 1974), passim.
[xiii] “WEST SHORE ROAD ON S.I. IS APPROVED,” New York Times, February 22, 1967, pp. 31-31, https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1967/02/22/83580342.html?pageNumber=31.
[xiv] “Kenneth T. Jackson, “The New Age of Automobility,” in Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States (OXFORD University Press, 2012).
[xv] “Kenneth T. Jackson, “Federal Subsidy and the Suburban Dream:How Washington Changed the American Housing Market,” in Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States (OXFORD University Press, 2012).
[xvi] Robert K. Nelson, LaDale Winling, Richard Marciano, Nathan Connolly, et al., “Mapping Inequality,” American Panorama, ed. Robert K. Nelson and Edward L. Ayers, accessed December 15, 2021, https://dsl.richmond.edu/panorama/redlining/#loc=12/40.534/-74.213&city=staten-island-ny
[xvii] Robert A. Caro, The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York (New York, 1974), passim
“Big Opportunity for City Planning Is Seen in Landfill on Staten Island.” New York Times. November 26, 1951. https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1951/11/26/93199279.html?pageNumber=25.
“Carey Says Moses Is A Propagandist.” The New York Times. October 11, 1938. https://nyti.ms/3ys0jt9.
Caro, Robert A. The Power Broker. New York City, NY: Random House Inc., 1974.
“Fresh Kills Dump Fund Again Put in Budget,” Staten Island Advance, June 9, 1946.
Guy V. Molinari, “Manhattan BP Not Interested in Closing Fresh Kills Landfill,” Staten Island Advance, January 15, 1997.
Jackson, Kenneth T. “The New Age of Automobility.” Essay. In Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States. OXFORD University Press, 2012.
Janice Kabel, “The Fresh Kills Landfill: Thank Robert Moses for Idea of Transforming Marsh to Park,” Staten Island Advance, October 2, 1978; Steinberg, Gotham Unbound, 244.
Melosi, Martin V. “ONE BEST WAY.” Essay. In Fresh Kills: A History of Consuming and Discarding in New York City, 145–46. New York: Columbia University Press, 2020.
Memorandum to Mr. Spargo from Commissioner Moses, January 7, 1946, NYC Department of Parks, Office of the Commissioner, 1940– 1956, Box 107883, Folder 20, Department of Sanitation, 1946, City of New York, Department of Records and Information Services, Municipal Archives, New York City.
“Moses and Hall,” Staten Island Advance, June 5, 1946.
Robert K. Nelson, LaDale Winling, Richard Marciano, Nathan Connolly, et al., “Mapping Inequality,” American Panorama, ed. Robert K. Nelson and Edward L. Ayers, accessed December 16, 2021, https://dsl.richmond.edu/panorama/redlining/#loc=12/40.534/-74.213&city=staten-island-ny
Steinberg, Theodore, and Theodore Steinberg. “12 THE MASSIFS OF FRESH KILLS.” Essay. In Gotham Unbound: The Ecological History of Greater New York. New York: Simon et Schuster paperbacks, 2015.
“WEST SHORE ROAD ON S.I. IS APPROVED.” New York Times. February 22, 1967. https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1967/02/22/83580342.html?pageNumber=31.
“Www1.Nyc.gov.” Accessed December 13, 2021. https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/planning/download/pdf/planning-level/nyc-population/census2020/dcp_2020-census-briefing-booklet-1.pdf.
- The Commission. (1966). Staten Island Development: Policies, programs and priorities.
This source isn’t available online, but in the New York Public Library. It’s from the New York City Planning Commission, one of the earliest sources I was able to find regarding Staten Island. It’s about the policy behind the development of Staten Island, and will inevitably involve a section regarding Fresh Kills Landfill. Although not from exactly the time period I was looking for, it is as early as is available.
This source isn’t available online, but in the New York Public Library. It is a book from 1943 regarding the planning and development of New York City, the small amount of detail provided prior to getting my hands on the book have shown that it has a section on Staten Island. As it was created right after Fresh Kills opened the growth of the landfill should have already started accelerating.
This source isn’t available online, but in the New York Public Library. It is a document from before Fresh Kills closed regarding the planning of an area that the landfill sat upon/was adjacent to. Very useful in understanding how the landfill was seen as an opportunity before it’s closing.
This source goes over the history of Fresh Kills, it’s effects and what happened in it.
I needed a book like this for various clarifications of the timeline of events in Fresh Kills. To get details on what happened. Information on “the relationship among consumption, waste and disposal” is needed in order to tie in the social ramifications of the landfill and it’s purpose. It also touches upon politics throughout Fresh Kills history, however not in the same light I wish to analyze the policy.
This book is about the development of New York City as a whole, and various hardships it faced.
Despite this book not being about Staten Island specifically, many of the ecological hardships in New York City’s history, happened in Staten Island. Understanding the development of the city is very important to draw conclusions about the intentions behind such actions. It also goes into account how the land of New York City was worked and molded into being able to hold one of the largest cities in America. Knowing how the city has gone about filling marshland in the past is necessary for understanding the intent of Fresh Kills.
Jackson, K. T. (1985). Crabgrass frontier: The suburbanization of america. Oxford University Press.
This is a book about suburbanization, the act of growing and developing suburbia and all of its downsides.
My goal is to make a connection between Fresh Kills as a tool to develop land and the creation of a white suburb. Suburbanization is a well studied topic about the creation of white suburbs, the inequality of suburbanization being well known. Understand common methods, the way suburbanization occurs and such, is essential.
The image presented above depicts a man visiting a pond that is slowly being engulfed by garbage from Fresh Kills Landfill. Fresh Kills Landfill was the largest landfill in the world for about 50 years, from 1955 until it’s closing in 2001. This landfill was used to completely change the landscape of Staten Island, from marshland to mounds of earth, ready to be developed, disregarding the effects on the people who would live on it. These effects are still being researched, and it is unconfirmed whether it is related to the increased rate of thyroid cancer on the island. Fresh Kills left a massive, permanent mark on Staten Island, a poisonous terraforming project, one of the largest in the world. I believe this image captures this grand change very well, depicting a person visiting the remnants of what was once a large pond in the marshland, shrinking by the shipment.
Depicted in this image is the last section of open water in the remnants of Long Pond, an area of marshland on the South Shore of Staten Island. There is a visitor, standing on the bank, pointing at a massive wall of garbage spanning the entire opposing bank. Debris is strewn about in the pond itself. This is an image sometime around 1950, while the original intentions are uncertain, it seems clear that the image was made to be alarming. The audience could either have been residents of Staten Island, to show what the effects of the landfill are. Many of the Islanders knew very well what was being done and were already opposing the landfill, so this image may have been to show the rest of the city what was occurring.
A key feature of this image is also the most eye-catching part, the daunting colossal wall of garbage. While the wall is already very large, it is made to look even larger by its reflection in the water. This has a double meaning, being a symbol of how the landfill’s effects leave a larger impact than just the trash being dumped. This reflection also allows a better visualization of the amount of garbage that rests within the largest landfill in the world. At first glance it doesn’t even seem to fit, the garbage is hard to discern and the wall almost looks like it’s added in. Once you think about the area, it’s out of place for the wall to be that terrifyingly large, it’s to be expected of Fresh Kills. This is reinforced by the fact that the garbage has no end in sight, it takes up the entire background, with a terrifying lack of scale.
While the garbage is the eye-catching factor the lack of substance in the water itself is quite poignant. The water is entirely reflective, and has no discernable wave or feature to mark it as water outside of the context of the photo. It would be a matte void of grey, pure and still, but it’s broken by constant scattered debris throughout the entire pond. Garbage has managed to invade all parts of the image, breaking the perfect gradient in the water with sharp contrasting shadow.
Finally there is the man at the edge of the bank, pointing and staring off at the massive wall of trash across the pond. The man is almost hard to make out, his entire body is covered in shadow and is indistinguishable from the plant life next to him. Some lighting on the back of his head and hand, as well as the clear water allow us to clearly see his silhouette. Due to the identical coloring, and positioning, the mans is directly related to the plant life. He is, in literal terms, on the same side as nature, pointing across the water at an impending, strange amalgam of waste.
Overall the image encapsulates a tense unease, this uncomfortable feeling brought about by looking at something that doesn’t feel “right”. It depicts the overrunning of marshland by the enormous amount of trash brought by the landfill. While showing the impact the landfill had regarding the ruination of Staten Island marshland, it also shows the extent of the terraforming. The wall of debris is all what would now be underneath the newly formed soil, entirely new land to build upon, right on top of smothered marsh. Pointing at this horror is the man in the foreground, representing the people living with this process, planned by the city, all in order to build a neat suburbia. This practice, sacrifices the health of the lower middle class people who get to benefit from the new housing area, while still excluding the working class minority communities from gaining. Damaging class solidarity beneath the wealth gap while still cutting corners for the health of middle class white suburbanites. Truly a brilliant plan for the ruling class elite.