Locals turn out for a midsummer night’s Gowanus dream

A ‘Bridging Gowanus’ Open House Featuring Sweeping Redevelopment Plans Draws a Sizable Crowd

August 10, 2016 By James Harney Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The Gowanus Canal and the rooftop lounge of the new 365 Bond St. apartments, right, are seen in this photo. On Tuesday, local residents and activists attended an open house to discuss how the area surrounding the canal should be redeveloped. AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews
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If you show it, they will come.

More than 100 local residents, activists and entrepreneurs turned out Tuesday for an open house to examine and weigh in on an ambitious vision for the future of the Gowanus neighborhood.

Between 2013 and 2015, Councilmember Brad Lander, whose 39th District includes Gowanus, conducted a series of town hall meetings at which he solicited opinions from hundreds of locals — including homeowners, merchants, advocates and others — on how the area surrounding the infamously polluted Gowanus Canal should be redeveloped.

The fruit of those town halls was “Bridging Gowanus,” a set of recommendations adopted in August 2015 by Community Board 6. Those recommendations were arranged into the following six categories:

       A Sustainable, Resilient, Environmentally Healthy Community

       Invest in Our Parks, Schools, Transit and Waterfront

       Strengthen the Manufacturing Sector and Create Good Jobs

       Keep Gowanus Creative and Mixed Use

       Preserve and Create Affordable Housing for an Inclusive Community

       Secure a Pathway for Responsible Growth

Broken down even more specifically, the recommendations included calls to alleviate overcrowding in local public schools, restore the discontinued B71 bus service to the neighborhood, consider forming an Industrial Business Improvement District, upgrade neighborhood parks, make overdue investments in deteriorating NYCHA housing developments in the area and “support the comprehensive cleanup of the Gowanus Canal.”

All these goals and numerous more were on display at Tuesday’s open house, held at the Bell House on Seventh Street and Second Avenue. 

Upon arriving, attendees were each issued a strip of tickets, which they were asked to separate and place into large jars situated in front of poster board displays of each of the six Bridging Gowanus categories. In effect, the participants were casting unofficial votes for their favorite Gowanus plan priorities.

“The event is meant to share the recommendations and to hear what the community feels is most important to them,” said a spokeswoman for Lander, who was out of town and could not attend.

Among those who did attend was Paul Basile, president of the Gowanus Alliance, which represents about 150 businesses in the Gowanus area.

“We’re here because we realize that if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu,” said Basile. “It’s our concern that as the residential component in Gowanus grows, the industrial component will be forced to shrink.”

He hastened to add that his organization was “very appreciative of the outreach that Brad Lander has done,” adding that  “the goal is to find a balanced, comprehensive plan that is respectful of the old Gowanus, but still allows the changes that will come with the new.”

Another participant, Rickie James, 62, a Clinton Hill-based architect, said “[I] used to swim in the Gowanus Canal when I was young.” While he insisted that was no longer possible, he hailed the Bridging Gowanus open house as “a good idea.”

James, who said identified himself as the older brother of Public Advocate Letitia James, added, “I’m not sure any of these plans will actually come to pass, because I think a lot of these plans will be stalled in government gridlock. But I suppose the more people who show up to these meetings, the bigger the impact [the city] will have behind whatever they’re going to present.”

The open house is one of a handful of such community gatherings slated to be held during the rest of the summer. Beginning in September, Lander’s office and Gowanus community leaders plan to start working with the city Department of City Planning, which has earmarked Gowanus for one of its PLACES (Planning for Livability, Affordability, Community, Economy Opportunity and Stability) studies.

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