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American Society of Landscape Architects


December 2006 Issue

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

From Dumps to Destinations 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 solitude.”

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 balloons.

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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