Global environmental challenges
From illegal landfill to natural urban oasis
The green hill in the distance looks to be natural but then you think “hang on, this is Dallas. There aren’t any hills here … ”
The hill, in fact, masks what was once an illegal landfill filled with cast off debris. The garbage now lies beneath a thick clay cap to prevent the methane, a greenhouse gas on steroids, from seeping out. Natural grass has been planted on the top.
Nearby fish-filled ponds mark the gateway to a 6,000 acre ecosystem which is the largest urban hardwood forest in the United States. And it is all just minutes away from historically disadvantaged and mostly black neighborhoods on the south side of Dallas.
I had been meaning to visit the Trinity River Audubon Center, a partnership between the city of Dallas the National Audubon Society, since it opened in October of last year. I got a gap the other day and it was an eye-opening visit.
Basically, the city and the green group are transforming a wasteland into an urban oasis on the banks of the Trinity River which is a magnet for bird life and mammals such as beaver and white-tailed deer.
This is a “good news” green story that shines a spotlight on many different issues: the environmental costs of poverty (no illegal landfills in affluent white suburbs); the range of sources for the greenhouse gases linked to global warming (people think of cars and power plants, not garbage sites);and our ability to reverse environmental damage.
The center’s director Chris Culak showed me aerial photos which showed the gradual transformation as the garbage — which at one point had burnt off and on for several months — was buried, grass was planted and the center was built.
Among other things the center serves as an educational show piece complete with labs to provide inner city kids with a natural experience they wouldn’t otherwise get. This is important as environmentalism is sometimes seen as an “elitist” pursuit which doesn’t involve or engage poor and minority communities. (It brings to mind the green movement in South Africa, where I was based for many years. It was largely white and well-heeled and often seemed far removed from the country’s townships and squalid squatter camps).
In Phoenix, a similar project is under way near the downtown area, where a former dumping ground for industrial business is being transformed into a riverside park and nature center.
It all beats the hell out of a landfill or dump.
(Photo: Trinity River Audubon Center, courtesy of Audubon)