Innovative projects that turn old landfills into parks are becoming increasingly common all over the world. In recent years, cities ranging from Shanghai to New York have taken a long, hard look at their landfills—often bursting at the seams with decades’ worth of decomposing municipal waste—and have found innovative ways to give them new life and make them useful to their communities in a completely different way by rehabilitating them into thriving public parks. Read on for a tour of seven of these amazing transformations.
Mount Trashmore, Virginia Beach
This park’s name is just about the only clue to the fact that Mount Trashmore was once a desolate brownfield landfill receiving trash from all over the East Coast. When the waste became too much for the landfill to handle, the solution to make a mountain of the trash and convert the area into a recreational park was proposed. The waste was compacted together with clean soil to form the mountain’s “layers,” and the entire mountain was then buried under another 6 feet of clean soil. Hollow poles jammed deep into the mountain flip open at synchronized times to release the landfill gas stored in the mountain’s interior. In 2002, the entire structure was capped with rubber to make it impermeable to rainwater.
As a result of these modifications, Mount Trashmore is now a vibrant park and one of the area’s biggest attractions, drawing close to a million visitors every year. One of its most impressive features is its 24,000-square-foot skate park, which has hosted the likes of Tony Hawk in front of packed crowds.
Hiriya Park, Tel Aviv
Once a huge garbage mountain, the former landfill in Tel Aviv took in 25 million tons of waste before it was finally shut down in 1998. Due to concerns about the waste collapsing into the neighboring Ayalon riverbed, an international competition was held to ascertain a vision for resurrecting the land. That vision came from Peter Latz, a landscape architect and urban planner, who transformed Hiriya into Ariel Sharon Park, a municipal oasis that is even bigger than New York’s Central Park. One of Latz’s biggest innovations in the creation of the park was the invention of a bioplastic layer underlying the soil of the park: this protects plants from landfill contaminants and prevents landfill gases such as methane from reaching the surface.
Sai Tso Wan Recreation Ground, Hong Kong
The first landfill park ever built in densely populated Hong Kong, the former Sai Tso Wan landfill once held more than 1.5 million tons of domestic and commercial waste stacked up to 65 meters high. Today, Sai Tso Wan’s multipurpose playground is one of the region’s greenest spaces, boasting wind turbines, solar panels, rainwater irrigation systems, and porous Rubbersoil surfaces made from recycled materials. Moreover, Sai Tso Wan is home to the Hong Kong Baseball Association’s official training grounds.
Pulau Semaku, Singapore
Singapore’s only landfill, Pulau Semaku has the distinction of being open to the public for nature-related recreational activities while still remaining a working landfill. Created by enclosing two small islands off Singapore’s mainland with a rock bund, Pulau Semaku has made conscious and consistent efforts over the years to preserve the area’s unique ecosystem of thriving coral reefs and mangroves, which are home to a rich diversity of plant and animal species. Some of the activities that people enjoy at Pulau Semaku include birdwatching, sports fishing, and intertidal walks.
Cesar Chavez Park, Berkeley
A 90-acre focal point of San Francisco’s culture, the waterfront hillside retreat of Cesar Chavez Park betrays no hint of its former life as a 1950s landfill. Located on the coast of San Francisco Bay, the park offers breathtaking views of Angel Island, Alcatraz, and the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. The park also has huge areas of grassy fields beloved by Frisbee players and kite enthusiasts (the park hosts the Berkeley Kite Festival every July), hiking trails, and a wildlife sanctuary.
Port Sunlight River Park, UK
A landfill site in the Liverpool area for 15 years, Port Sunlight River Park not only offers 70 acres of woodland, wildflowers, a scenic waterfront, and walkways, but it has specially preserved an area of natural wetlands, which are now home to large populations of water birds. Visitors can enjoy beautiful views of the Liverpool skyline, as well as public access to the River Mersey for boating and water activities. In recognition of its transformation, Port Sunlight River Park has received accolades from the Business Green Leaders Awards, the Echo Environment Awards, and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.
Flushing Meadows, Queens, NY
Did you know that every time you watch the US Open tennis competition, you’re looking at the site of a former landfill? New York’s second-largest park, Flushing Meadows-Corona Park is home to an incredible array of features and facilities—from the Queens Zoo to the home field of the New York Mets baseball team—and has come to occupy a very popular place in the local landscape.