Report: Rezoning could cause Gowanus heat waves; Green mandates recommended

One recommendation: Turn Con Ed lot into temporary park

January 8, 2018 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The 5 Boro Bike Tour is this Sunday. Eagle file photo by Lore Croghan
Share this:

Gowanus is one of the trendiest neighborhoods in Brooklyn, but will its upcoming rezoning make the neighborhood way too hot?

Gowanus — an area already subject to a poor air and water quality, heavy traffic and lack of parks and open space — could suffer the effects of a phenomenon known as the urban heat island effect as higher density buildings are developed, according to the nonprofit Urban Land Institute New York (ULI NY).

In the urban heat island effect, buildings, cement and asphalt paving cause cities to be hotter than surrounding, less developed areas, especially at night. While daytime temperatures can be as much as 5 degrees Fahrenheit hotter, evening temperatures can be as much as 22 degrees hotter than neighboring areas.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, increased heat from the urban heat island effect has been linked to respiratory difficulties, heat cramps, heat stroke and deaths.

News for those who live, work and play in Brooklyn and beyond

Gowanus is one of several neighborhoods facing rezoning as part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s affordable housing push.

ULI NY was invited to look into the issue by the nonprofit community development corporation Fifth Avenue Committee. Together, they convened a Technical Assistance Panel in April to study the potential rezoning and offer recommendations to ameliorate drawbacks. ULI NY issued a report on Monday.

Some of the recommendations in ULI NY’s report include more trees and plantings, green roofs and breezeways, “paths of respite” along windy corridors, better public transit, and turning the Con Edison lot between Baltic and Butler streets into a temporary park while the area’s only public park, Thomas Greene Park, is closed as part of an area Superfund cleanup.

Land values in the area north of Third Street are expected to explode following rezoning, according to the panel.

“What if you could capture some of the value of the real estate and use it for public benefit?” James Lima, chair of the Technical Assistance Panel and president of James Lima Planning + Development, told the Brooklyn Eagle on Monday. Lima said requirements and incentives aimed at addressing urban heat island effect could be incorporated into the rezoning.

The effect would be to “leverage” the planned rezoning for the benefit of the community, Lima said. While building requirements for developers into rezoning plans is not unique, Lima said, Gowanus has “extraordinary existing conditions,” such as very little tree canopy.

Although the exact details of the rezoning are not yet known, maximum building height and Floor Area Ratio (FAR) are likely to increase in portions of the district, resulting in an overall increase in height and bulk. Tall buildings prevent surrounding streets from releasing their heat at night.

Urban heat island effect presents “a pressing health issue,” Katharine Burgess, senior director of Urban Resilience at ULI told the Eagle. The tactical approach taken to the issue in Gowanus could be repurposed as a national model, she said.

Urban heat island’s effects are not insignificant. In Europe during a heatwave in August 2003, for example, the effect was estimated to cause up to 70,000 excess deaths, according to the March 8, 2016 issue of the journal Environmental Health.

In 2016, the NYC Department of City Planning announced that Gowanus would be one of 15 neighborhoods to be rezoned by the de Blasio administration. In anticipation of potentially dramatic changes to the neighborhood, Fifth Avenue Committee convened a coalition of local tenants, workers, businesses and community organizations to focus on issues of economic and environmental justice, protecting tenants from displacement, investing in NYCHA and other issues.

More details on recommendations in report

*    Increase vegetation in the area by 20 percent, which could reduce air temperatures by approximately 3 degrees. This includes not only trees, but vines on the external walls of existing buildings and planters. This also would support stormwater retention and help mitigate flooding.

*    Incentivize green building in new development. Strategies include installing green roofs, using double or triple-pane windows, and implementing envelope improvements such as insulation and breezeways. Builders could redirect and reuse the solar heat that is captured in buildings, which, if allowed to be wasted, can contribute to higher temperatures.

*    Design areas and paths of respite. Major thoroughfares in Gowanus currently offer few places for pedestrians to escape the heat. Areas or paths of respite could feature cooling green infrastructure. To maximize impact, the areas could follow the area’s prevailing winds, and involve the community’s currently hidden network of creeks.

*    Make the transportation system in the area more efficient. Encourage more people to use public transit to help reduce congestion and decrease emissions, which contribute to the urban heat island effect. The panel recommends more frequent bus service, sufficient bike parking, and stop sign and traffic light improvements at key intersections. The addition of a new pedestrian bridge over the Gowanus Canal on Degraw Street would allow residents to traverse the canal without using public transit.

*    Turn the Con Edison lot between Baltic and Butler streets into a temporary park. With the only public park in the area, Thomas Greene Park, slated to be closed temporarily for Manufactured Gas Plan (MGP) remediation efforts in support of the Superfund cleanup, transforming the Con Edison lot into a temporary park would help residents stay cool while also serving as a place for recreation. Recommendations include a pool to compensate for the closure of the community’s only public pool, installing a pop-up tree nursery to grow trees for neighborhood streets, and adding shade elements such as trellises with vines.

The full report may be found at:


Leave a Comment

Leave a Comment