New York Finds Waste Tactics in Minds of Babes

AS SOPHISTICATED DESIGNERS plan to redevelop Fresh Kills landfill on New York's Staten Island and business analysts weigh the future of New York City's recycling program, schoolchildren may hold the answers to the city's waste problems.

Since 1987, the Salvadori Center based in Manhattan, has taught urban students about architecture and design solutions for New York City and beyond. The curriculum is designed to generate enthusiasm for the built and natural environments. Architect-educators join the city's public schools to develop youth-oriented environmental programs.

In March 2001, when the Fresh Kills landfill closed, two teachers at Dyker Heights Intermediate School in Brooklyn challenged their eighth graders: What should happen to all of that land?

The only constraints the teachers placed on the project were that the proposals should fulfill a civic need and generate income for the city.

To prepare, students studied existing landfill uses and soil remediation techniques after a landfill is closed. Teachers carefully explained federal environmental regulations that govern how a closed site is managed.

A major hurdle for the kids, says science teacher Marisa Bolognino, was conveying just how large a 2,200-acre landfill is. Students compared the landfill to stadiums and shopping malls, and traced teacher-led routes around Brooklyn to gain a sense of the landfill's enormity.

“We did some historical background on the area, and we [showed them] maps so they could understand what a big area it was,” says Helen Kraljic, architect coordinator for Dyker Heights. “We were actually pretty surprised at the kids' response. A lot of them wanted environmental things [at the landfill], such as places for animals and birds.”

Student Angelina Ngo, for example, planned a Fresh Kills Wonderland. She drew a scaled map of her proposal and detailed diagrams of different sections, which ranged from horseback-riding areas to an education center. Other students envisioned a recycling facility, shopping mall, theme park, university and medical buildings.

Not to be left out, Dyker Heights seventh graders wre required to design and build a model of a recycling plant. To help with their research, students often take tours of local recycling facilities.

In another program, Dyker Heights students designed a garbage can with a secured lid. “One of the major problems in New York City is the rodent problem,” says Manette Gampel, a Salvadori master teacher now working with Montauk Intermediate School in Brooklyn. “One of the causes is that the garbage cans do not have lids.”

To display students' architectural models and environmental designs, Dyker Heights holds an annual architecture fair. According to Salvadori Program Associate Dida Stadler, the fair's projects can influence students in other groups.

“The seventh graders' projects often show the sixth graders different ways to process waste,” she says.

As adults grapple for lucrative and healthy waste solutions for New York City's landfill and recycling problems, such messages from the minds of babes might not seem so absurd.