Eco Innovation

Notorious American prison is getting clean and going green

6th February 2023
Sheryl Miles

Rikers Island, one of the most notorious prisons in America, is to become a renewable energy hub.

The prison, which has a reputation that precedes it for violence, assaults and abuse of both inmates and guards, is to be closed down in 2027, at which time the New York City (NYC) Council plan on giving it a green overhaul.

What does a Renewable Rikers look like?

The Regional Plan Association (RPA), an independent, not-for-profit planning organisation that focuses on recommendations to improve the quality of life and economic competitiveness of the NY metropolitan area, has commissioned a vision of what the future Rikers Island could look like as part of its 2022 Richard Kaplan Chairs for Urban Design Fellowship.

The plan

Control of the island is to be given over from the Department of Corrections to agencies who will plan for green infrastructure through the Renewable Rikers plan.

It is hoped that the plan could bring about:

  • 1,500MW of energy storage
  • 275MW of solar power
  • Processing of 365,000 tonnes of annual organic waste
  • A recycling hub to generate green jobs
  • Removal of combustion engine trucks from the road
  • Activating urban ecologies

(Image taken from the Regional Planning Association (RPA) website.)

Once in operation, the facility will be used for solar energy and battery storage, plus it could consolidate four old wastewater treatment plants with state-of-the-art tech – freeing up community space and cleaning local waterways. There are also plans for food scrap and waste recycling to be utilised.

A green future

It is hoped that the benefit reaped from this project could provide up to a 40% contribution towards the goal of net zero. The positive impacts of these plans will ripple far and wide, and given its location to marine waste transfer stations, the island is perfectly located to become a hub for organics processing.

It is hoped that with this much needed facility, the stigma of the prison will begin to reduce over time, and the community can start to heal. Past traumas and negative associations attached to the location will eventually yield to a more positive future, not just for the globe and the goal of net zero emissions, but for those who live and work by the facility – those whose lives have been the most impacted.

A clean, green, net zero isn’t the only positive prospect to arise from the new Renewable Rikers – it is also hoped that it will generate new jobs and introduce people to the world of STEM.

This will be achieved through the Association’s plans to have a research and training institute allowing local resident communities to gain education and skills in ‘green occupations’, meaning they can gain all the experience they need to be able to work in the field of solar installation and repair, for example. By using the island as a testing ground for new and exciting technical innovations it is not only healing the earth, but also communities.


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