Will the Gowanus Canal become the Venice of Brooklyn?

June 21, 2017 By Scott Enman Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The Gowanus Canal Conservancy released plans for a new state-of-the-art park along the Gowanus Canal dubbed the “Gowanus Lowlands.” Shown: The proposed Salt Lot and Sixth Street Wetland Basin. Rendering courtesy of Gowanus Canal Conservancy and SCAPE Landscape Architecture DPC
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The Gowanus Canal is notorious for its toxic waters, pungent fumes and glistening coal tar, but it soon may be known for a state-of-the-art park coming to its shores.

Advertised as the Venice of Brooklyn and the next river Seine, the Gowanus Canal Conservancy (GCC) has big plans for the 1.8-mile polluted canal, referred to by some as the dirtiest waterway in America. 

GCC released the “master plan” for the park — dubbed “Gowanus Lowlands: A Blueprint for NYC’s Next Great Park” — on Tuesday at the group’s 10th anniversary party.

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“We were thrilled by the incredible community of friends and neighbors that showed up to celebrate our 10th anniversary and launch the Lowlands vision,” said GCC Executive Director Andrea Parker.

“The Bell House was a perfect location to present our vision for a new type of park, a connective network that addresses the very real environmental challenges we face in Gowanus, while celebrating the unique history and character of this place.” 

The Gowanus Lowlands will, according to an announcement from GCC, “shine a light on the canal’s history and singular beauty” so that “residents, workers and visitors will be able to fully engage with all Gowanus has to offer, from its native plants and wildlife, to its thriving industry, to its hidden creeks and hypnotic waterway.”  

This entire plan, however, is contingent on the federally mandated cleanup of the waterway, which was declared a Superfund site in 2010.

After experiencing several road bumps, including a brief funding crisis, the cleanup process is proceeding. The Environmental Protection Agency began removing debris from the canal in October 2016.

GCC and the Gowanus community, in conjunction with SCAPE Landscape Architecture, designed the park’s blueprint.

“We’re very excited to collaborate with the Gowanus Canal Conservancy, which we respect and admire,” SCAPE Design Principal Gena Wirth told the Brooklyn Eagle. “The design process was inspired by the historic lowlands image superimposed on today’s street grid. It speaks to the Gowanus as a place of constant change and transformation.”

In the next six to nine months, SCAPE, GCC and the Gowanus community will flesh out the plan further.

Several desires outlined in the plan include creating a “vibrant cultural landscape, open space, water access and neighborhood connectivity,” in addition to making the neighborhood a future employment hub. 

“With sea-level rise, the Superfund cleanup, planning studies and anticipated investment, there is a clear need to synthesize these processes, making sure that the diverse communities that surround the waterway have a voice in shaping their neighborhood over time,” Wirth told the Eagle.

“The Lowlands is a template for change that values and protects the weird and powerful experiences of the Gowanus Canal, while improving neighborhood and ecological health over time.” 

The new park will feature sloping grassy knolls, bridges, elevated scenic overlooks, maritime meadows, performance spaces, cafes, picnic areas, boathouses and playgrounds.

The Gowanus Lowlands will join several other recent green infrastructure projects along the canal.

The Gowanus Canal Sponge Park and 70 curbside rain gardens were installed in November along the waterway in order to improve the health of the canal, clean the air around it and beautify the neighborhood.

The Sponge Park, which was designed by Brooklyn Heights-based design firm DLANDstudio, was built at the end of Second Street where the road meets the west side of the canal. It will collect an estimated 1 million gallons of stormwater annually.

The rain gardens will have the capacity to collect and absorb more than 6 million gallons of stormwater each year. They are spread out across the Gowanus Canal Watershed in Boerum Hill, Carroll Gardens, Gowanus, Park Slope and Prospect Heights. 

“Our city promotes parks without borders,” Parker told the Eagle. “The Lowlands vision is for a new kind of park, a park that transcends not only physical borders, but borders between agencies, landowners and responsible parties.”

She added, “[GCC is] here to guide this process, to make sure that the enormous investments going into neighborhood cleanup and development are leveraged to serve the neighborhood’s needs and to build a landscape that is much more than the sum of its parts.”


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