Landfill Parks: Case Study
From Dumps to Destinations
The conversion of landfills to parks has great potential for cities.
By Peter Harnik, Michael Taylor, and Ben Welle
City of Virginia Beach and Backus Aerial Photo
Imagine sunbathing, playing baseball, or flying a kite on top of
a huge pile of garbage. Actually there’s no need to imagine—you
can simply head on out to Boston’s Millennium Park. Fifteen years
ago, known as the Gardner Street Landfill, it was a dump—literally.
Today its 100 acres host sports fields, playgrounds, an outdoor
classroom and amphitheater, six miles of walking and biking trails,
and river access. As Mayor Tom Menino stated at its opening day
on December 7, 2000, it is now “a place for people of all ages and
backgrounds to come for a picnic, a friendly ball game, or some
No one has tabulated all the parks and public recreational
sites created on old landfills. The number is certainly more than 250 and may
well be over 1,000. They range from the famous—Flushing Meadow in New York
(site of two world’s fairs) and the appropriately named Mt. Trashmore in
Virginia Beach—to the obscure, and from new inner-city basketball and tennis
courts to expansive suburban golf courses and soccer complexes. One converted
landfill in Berkeley, California, is home to an international kite festival,
and another, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, hosts a celebration of hot air
It would be an overstatement to say that the nation’s best
urban parks are created from landfills, or even that capped landfills
automatically make terrific parks. In an ideal world there would be certain
real estate for landfills and different real estate for parks. (In an even more
ideal world all trash would be recycled rather than discarded, and there would
be no landfills at all.) But in a time of severe urban space and resource
constraints, closed landfills present themselves as excellent locales for three
big reasons—size, location, and cost—and communities from coast to coast have
been jumping at the chance to use them.
Old landfills are so appropriate for conversion into parks
that planners should not even wait until they are closed. Ideally, siting
should be pre-envisioned by recreational planners, and layout should be
pre-designed by landscape architects well before the first bag of garbage is
disposed, years before a park is created.
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