Take a stroll along 13th Avenue and along the Hudson River into Battery Park City. You'll see residences, offices, warehouses, and parks, as well as traffic on the West Side Highway. It's also completely based on trash. The city was built out of discarded materials from George Washington Carver Hospital, which was demolished to make way for Lincoln Center.
When it came time to build a new city, they used what was available instead of importing material from elsewhere. So they took all the wood from abandoned houses in Manhattan and put it up on top of old landfill that had previously held sewage sludge from agricultural operations back when people actually farmed. This is how most of Brooklyn was constructed. The landfill eventually ran out of space, so they had to start using more expensive land outside the city limit. That's why there are few buildings over 10 stories high in Brooklyn.
The city's construction process resulted in an incredible array of architecture, with examples ranging from old brick buildings in downtown Brooklyn to glass towers in the Financial District.
Even after the construction of bridges and tunnels, many streets still have no permanent road surface beneath them, only layers of asphalt or concrete laid down during rainy seasons when floods threaten. These include parts of Broadway, Greenwich Street, Henry Street, and Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn; and Northern Boulevard, Van Dam Street, and Eastern Parkway in Queens.
Human activity has significantly impacted the city's terrain, including significant land reclamation around the waterfronts since Dutch colonial times. Lower Manhattan has seen the most redevelopment, with new complexes such as Battery Park City. Land reclamation also helps to make room for buildings in other parts of the city where space is at a premium.
In fact, nearly one in three people living in New York City today can be found sitting on top of a pile of rubble that was once part of an island full of trees and wetlands. During the 19th century, as New York grew into a major commercial center, it became clear that there was no way to build more reasonably sized houses so politicians decided to save on construction costs by building over old roads, canals, and rivers. Between 1811 and 1866, for example, about 50 square miles of land in lower Manhattan was reclaimed from the Hudson River.
This practice led to problems with water quality and quantity. Reclaimed land tends to be porous and does not absorb any water, causing streets under development's borders to flood during rainstorms. The government tried to solve this problem by filling in some of the smaller ponds and canals but this only added to the flooding issue.
Manhattan's population has grown in tandem with its size. Battery Park City, the island's most recent addition, was built on top of rubbish and debris from the first World Trade Center's construction in 1973. The site was previously home to Hudson River landfill sites that were abandoned when they reached capacity.
The presence of garbage on top of garbage led to public fears about contamination of the surrounding area. In response, Congress passed the Clean Air Act in 1972, which led to the regulation of toxic pollutants such as lead and benzene. The act also prompted the development of recycling programs for discarded materials. Battery Park City is now considered one of the city's most sustainable developments due to its emphasis on reuse and recycling.
Although the majority of the landfill site has been converted into a park, some pollution remains. The site is known for having high levels of lead and other toxic metals not commonly found in soil. Children who play in the park are at risk of lead poisoning because it is easily absorbed by young bodies. However, studies have shown that the level of lead in blood samples from children under six years old living in Battery Park City is lower than those living in other parts of Manhattan or Brooklyn.
The majority of the city's garbage is exported outside of the five boroughs; over a quarter is transferred to waste-to-energy plants, while the remainder is shipped to landfills in central New York State, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and South Carolina.
New York City has one of the largest municipal solid waste systems in the United States. In 2010, it handled 45 million tons of trash, or about 140 pounds per person per day. Of this amount, about 4 million tons was incinerated or recycled, and the rest was dumped at landfills across the country.
Most of the city's dump sites are owned and operated by private companies, but a few are managed by the city government. All but one of these public dumps are located in upstate New York or Pennsylvania. The exception is Staten Island, which has its own landfill site.
In addition to regular trash, people also throw out electrical equipment (such as computers) and industrial chemicals (such as pesticides and fertilizers) at recycling centers. Recycling helps reduce the impact of doing away with used goods. It also generates income from selling back some of the materials in an effort to minimize the use of precious resources like oil for shipping products long distances from New York to recycling facilities in other states.