Crossing the Gowanus: Rethinking the Canal and its Environs
The Gowanus Canal (aka the Lavender Lake) was once an industrial hub for the city, even serving as one of the primary transportation routes for the Brownstone used to construct much of Brooklyn’s iconic housing stock. Unfortunately, the canal was built without the lock systems that would have allowed flushing and the water quickly degenerated. Today the Gowanus is an infamously odiferous barrier separating Carroll Gardens and Park Slope. Recently the EPA went over the city’s head to declare the canal one of its Superfund sites, opening the floodgates for funding to dredge and reclaim the waterway. Recent studies, however, measure the polluted sediment to be at least 80 feet deep, rendering prevalent cleaning methods ineffective and indicating that the process will be long and arduous without a clear result.
A number of people submitted ideas to By the City / For the City for using the canal to re-link the surrounding neighborhoods. Jim from South Brooklyn would have the canal “delisted as a navigable waterway.” The Gowanus’s current classification—an archaic designation as a tall-mast shipping route—means that boats and barges must be able to navigate the entire canal, resulting in the drawbridges and the unusually-high elevation of the Gowanus Expressway and the Smith/9th St subway station. By delisting the canal, the city could reduce the heights of these structures and lessen the visual barrier effect that they create. People could also still canoe under deactivated drawbridges.
Kenneth suggested greenroofing the Gowanus. While the execution is drastically different, the motivation behind this idea echos Jim’s: renewing the urban landscape and expanding accessible habitat. Raymond from Bensonhurst, meanwhile, hopes that “neighborhoods can be more connected in Gowanus, Brooklyn by a green park/riverwalk w/ bike paths and pedestrian walkways that can also help prevent toxic water runoff into the polluted Gowanus Canal.” If the canal was, in fact, delisted as a navigable waterway, green connections such as planted bridges could be used to create pleasant connections between neighborhoods.
The focus of these ideas is on seizing the opportunity to transform the Gowanus from barrier to bridge. There is plenty of industrial space begging to be repurposed and vacant space to be used. One resident hopes for a “new public building combining spaces for design and the arts with environmental R&D” at the presently vacant space near the Smith/9th St station. Rethinking connectivity issues connected to the canal could make neighborhoods along the Gowanus neighborhood more attractive, accessible, and navigable (for pedestrians), making it a more viable site for economic development. Greenspace could help mediate runoff to the canal, and creating new public spaces could invigorate residents and give the neighborhood a contemporary functionality. Motherless Brooklyn author Jonathan Lethem once dubbed the Gowanus the “armpit of Brooklyn;” smart design could integrate a host of improvements and go a long way towards elevating the neighborhood away from such a dubious status.
Think you’re up to the challenge of re-connecting neighborhoods along the Gowanus? Click here to register for the By the City / For the City design competition today! Entries are due by midnight (EST) on Sunday, July 31st, 2011. We can’t wait to see what you come up with!