Much of New York City was built on top of trash generated by 17th century Dutchmen. But modern-day inhabitants have drifted further and further from the city’s utilitarian roots. Instead of recycling or composting, New York City now spends hundreds of millions of dollars to truck garbage to dumps (called "transfer stations"), which then truck or float that garbage to landfills located as far away as Texas. It’s less reckoning with a problem and more shoving the byproducts of urban living out of sight.
Dealing with the massive amount of trash the city produces on-site is a monumental and ongoing task. But two local architects decided to leap several years into the future, in which they imagine New York City as a composting utopia. Evan Erlebacher and Andre Guimond of Present Architecture call their idea the "Green Loops," and have drafted up renderings showing what a network of floating composting stations that also double as public parks around the city might look like.
Inspired by city pilot programs that have started asking residents to compost, Erlebacher and Guimond wondered what it might take to beautify a traditional compost heap. "We started to think about what happens after the curb, and we realized that the facilities were never really addressed, probably just because these types of things are taken for granted," Erlebacher says. "We realized it was an opportunity to innovate, and to create something that could be beautiful, that could be desirable, that could be something that people want to live near instead of having it be the same old story that sanitation facilities are bad."
The architects’ design calls for 10 new compost hubs on the waterfront that generate 125 acres of public parkland. The hubs themselves resemble double-decker pizzas, with parks on top, and compost processing centers beneath. The pair would distribute these hubs evenly throughout the boroughs to help address New York City’s longstanding garbage inequity problem—the fact that city transfer stations overwhelmingly show up in low-income minority neighborhoods.
It’s an ambitious vision for a city that has struggled to implement its own exhaustively debated garbage equity plan for the last eight years. In 2006, New York City Council passed legislation to distribute transfer stations more evenly, especially in Manhattan, which doesn’t have any. But execution of the plan slowed when Upper East Siders put up a fierce NIMBY fight. Compost heaps also tend to be a favorite NIMBY complaint.
Erlebacher and Guimond insist there’s a way to do mass composting on-site without the odor, and thus maybe a way to do it without much fuss. "When compost is managed properly, you don’t get those terrible smells," Erlebacher says. "So this isn’t something that needs to be stinky and gross, and the technology exists so that it could be avoided."
Realistically, embracing city-wide composting could take a while. But in the meantime, the city’s initial compost pilot results are encouraging. After finding success in Windsor Terrace, the Department of Sanitation announced it would extend its voluntary curbside composting program to Park Slope this year.