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Strategic Soil

This project explores the history of the underground—and excavation into the underground—in Manhattan’s Inwood neighborhood. There are records of three historical burial grounds in Inwood: one belonging to the Indigenous Lenape people, one belonging to Dutch colonizers, and one belonging to the African people that the Dutch enslaved. These burial grounds were excavated in the early twentieth century, and in the case of the Indigenous and African burial grounds, the findings were discarded, with no record of their destination and no above ground marker of their former presence. Presently, substantial rezoning of Inwood has ushered in significant new construction in the same territory along the Harlem River where the burial grounds once lay. Despite the fact that the ground excavated during this construction will contain large quantities of valuable soil, the soil will be exported out of New York City and discarded in landfills, just as the excavated graves were.

With this research and context in mind, this project proposes a strategy for ensuring that Inwood’s excavated soil remains in Inwood in the aftermath of future construction projects. Using 375 West 207th Street—a high rise planned for construction in 2023—as a case study, detailed calculations show how excavated soil could be redistributed. The benefits of such a strategy would be manifold: to marginally reduce construction waste and carbon emissions resulting from the transportation of this waste to landfills, and to correct for the historical erasure of Inwood’s underground.