Mayor Bloomberg likes to talk about the need to stay competitive with the other global cities, like London and Hong Kong and Tokyo. Among the challenges are the cost of development, in which we actually have a competitive edge over many of our rivals. Which is why some of them have taken to filling in the waterways surrounding them. One of The Observer‘s favorite urban theorists, Vishaan Chakrabarti is proposing the same thing, according to The Times, using landfill to connect Governors Island to the Financial District. It might seem insane, but there are even logistical reasons the proposal makes sense.
The landfill would come from the Army Corps of Engineers, which is dredging New York Harbor to maintain and deepen shipping channels. Over the next 55 years, the corps is expected to dredge 180 million cubic yards of material, with the vast majority winding up in landfills and abandoned mines across the country.
Before the current regulations for building on top of landfill, the method was often used to expand the city’s footprint, including for Battery Park City, which is built on the dirt from the original World Trade Center. It is a popular strategy in other cities around the world. About 250 million cubic yards of landfill was used to create the Hong Kong airport and 6.65 billion cubic yards to create land in Tokyo Bay. The Governors Island proposal is much more modest, using approximately 23 million cubic yards, according to the study.
Rules governing building on landfill have changed, so the odds such a scheme will ever be realized see rare, but that may be a shame. For New York to continue to grow and innovate, we must not only look to our past, where building on landfill has a strong tradition, but also the efficiencies that come with turning waste into valuable property.