By Sophia Kelley
Staten Island is sometimes the forgotten borough of New York City. When it is remembered, the island’s legacy of pollution often gets mentioned first. An artist’s recent project may not change that exactly, but Deborah Davis is certainly bringing recognition to the continuing issue of contamination on Staten Island. Davis combined her passion for history with her graphic and artistic skills to create a map of Staten Island that documents the toxic sites of concern. When I first heard about her Toxic Trail Map, I was intrigued and decided to contact her to find out more.
When Davis moved to Staten Island in 1990, she says people would ask her, “Isn’t that where the dump is?” Though the infamous Fresh Kills Landfill is now closed and set to be developed into one of New York City’s largest parks, the island’s toxic legacy will be hard to shake off. Davis got interested in the industrial past and began to consult old maps and archives at the Staten Island Museum. With a grant from the Council on the Arts and Humanities for Staten Island, Davis was able to combine her research with environmental information from EPA’s Envirofacts site and her graphic design capabilities to create the online map. She also spent time traversing the island and taking photos of forbidden sites both from land and from boat rides on the water. Davis compared the shorelines of Staten Island with the New Jersey shores of Bayonne and Elizabeth to see what could happen if residents don’t start speaking out about overdevelopment. Davis decided to put the map on a website so that it could be accessible and updated, but she says she’s not an activist: “The way I like to communicate and shout is more graphically and visually.” Please take a look at her work and let us know what you think.