Shirley Chisholm State Park is New York City’s “New York City's nicest park built on top of a toxic waste dump,” and in this podcast, I detail the who, what and wheres of the Park, including its namesake, history, and cultural significance.
I stumbled upon this story by accident. I’m a student at SUNY ESF, and I participated in a Job Shadow program over winter break. I signed up to shadow the Lead Environmental Educator at Shirley Chisholm State Park, Brooklyn, because it was close to my home in Westchester, New York, and had ties to my career path.
I never imagined that after dodging New York City traffic for over two hours, that I was driving towards one of the most inspirational environments I had ever seen. Built on top of the old Pennsylvania and Fountain landfills, Shirley Chisholm State Park was only opened in summer of 2019, and the park is a wide expanse of grasses and shoreline that has stolen the hearts of environmentalists and community activists.
To me, building a park on old landfills is a revolutionary idea. When the landfills were closed, the area was repurposed through a number of steps including the installation of an impermeable plastic cap, and a gas piping system. Then around a million cubic yards of soil was spread on top of the site, on top of which native plants were planted to prevent erosion.
Someone asked me once if it was offensive to name a park built on top of landfills after an African American congresswoman, and although I understand where they are coming from, I would have to say no. Shirley Chisholm was the first African American woman to ever be elected to Congress, and to run for President of the United States from either party. She was a leader who deserves to be remembered in such a beautiful and inspiring way as to have a revolutionary park named in her honor.
I highly encourage everyone to visit the park. It has something for everyone, such as the Shirley Chisholm State Park Bike Library. This is a system for free loaner bikes for any Park-goers. There are also areas for fishing and birding on the shorefront, in addition to a wide range of educational hikes and activities offered by the park staff. With nearly 10 miles of biking and hiking trails, it's easy to forget the park’s proximity to New York City. The paved paths and abundance of seating makes the park easily accessible to visitors of all ages and abilities.
Some things you might want to know before going are that there are a few rules, such as properly disposing of waste, plus no smoking, grilling, or fires. Because the environment is so new at the Park, staff has asked that all pets are left at home, and that the wildlife found there are not fed.
But you don’t have to go to the park in order to understand what it can mean for society. It's a unique connection between history, the environment, and the surrounding community.
Is this the future of how we build the environment, and could everyone have access to a park like this? Is this how nature, culture, and society come together?
It’s located at 1750 Pennsylvania Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. And after years of anticipation, Shirley Chisholm State Park is now open 365 days per year, 9 a.m. to dusk. You can find more information on Shirley Chisholm State Park at Parks.ny.gov.