Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Michael Blim

Subject Categories

Social and Cultural Anthropology


New York City History, Urban Conservation, Urban Ecology, Waste Studies


This dissertation is an anthropological field study of the work of urban ecological maintenance being conducted in New York City through the analysis of the reclamation and biotic restoration of the Fresh Kills landfill, located in the borough of Staten Island. This landfill was once the largest urban dump in the United States. Its 2,200 acres of trash buried in four mounds have polluted an area historically noted for its natural beauty as a collection of marshes and woodlands bordering the Kill Van Kull, a tidal strait that flows into the New York Harbor. The current plan for park and nature reserve introduces rolling grassland habitats otherwise extirpated in the region and re-introduces native plants to enhance the area's biotic diversity. The site's large acreage will also link up with and expand the Staten Island Greenbelt. Fresh Kills, once transformed, will become one of the largest urban nature preserves in the city.

This dissertation also explores the essential maintenance work performed by researchers, city workers, and volunteers alike for creating and preserving wild spaces in New York City. Despite the ecological benefits envisioned in the Fresh Kills conversion, there are challenges ahead for implementing sustainability. Chief among them is the scarce funding for land reclamation in light of competing urban priorities. The substantial commitment to convert the world's largest landfill into an urban park and nature preserve, however, holds important lessons for public and non-profit agencies interested in urban environmental improvement.