Brooklyn Focus: Strolling Along the Gowanus Canal
Photos by Joy Romanski
View from Union St. Bridge over the Gowanus:
Disgusting and really stinky. Can't imagine living or working along the banks. But this wasn't the worst we have seen. It gets even worse in the summer in terms of both stink and slime. On July 26, 2008 my wife took the following pictures of the 9th St. bridge over the Gowanus Canal:
See the lovely phase change between the solid slick and the water? Here's what it looked like on the opposite bank:
Yes...that is a glass bottle embedded and suspended by the muck. Want to see a close up?
More debris enshrined in the amber-like "water":
Though for sheer "man that is gross" impact, nothing can beat a used latex glove embedded in the crap:
It is no wonder why the EPA wants to designate it a Superfund site and clean it up. I can't believe ANYONE would be so greedy and callous as to want to develop the canal without a thorough cleanup. My wife calls it a Love Canal waiting to happen. I should note that among those who support the Superfund cleanup of the Gowanus are:
# United States Environmental Protection Agency
# New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
# The Army Corps of Engineers
# Columbia University’s Urban Design Lab
That's not counting the environmental groups, local neighborhood organizations and local politicians. I am only mentioning the groups with both expertise on the issue and no bias or stake in the matter.
I also want to highlight another expert opinion: that of Tom Angotti, Ph.D., Director of the Center for Community Planning & Development at Hunter College. Another voice I would hesitate to ignore! Here is part of his statement from an excellent piece for Pardon Me For Asking on May 22, 2009:
I am deeply concerned about the future of the Gowanus area. It is one of the most contaminated in New York City and I find it troubling that after so many years of concern by residents and workers in the area, city government has yet to carry out a thorough study that looks at the long-term effects of the contamination on the health of people who live and work in the area. Nor does the city have an adequate strategy to clean it up the Canal. Designation of a Superfund Site would bring to bear the missing attention and resources and while it will not resolve all environmental and health problems it will bring us much closer than New York City’s limited efforts.
The proposal to rezone the area advanced by New York City Department of City Planning (DCP) can derail efforts to improve the environment. It is not based on any careful scientific study of contamination, the long-term effects of climate change and sea-level rise, or existing and future impacts on human health and local ecosystems. The rezoning responds to proposals for new residential development and would limit existing and potential industrial uses. DCP claims that as sites get redeveloped property owners will be required to clean them up. However, environmental impact statements (EIS) for individual sites, even large sites, will not produce the kind of remediation needed to make the Gowanus safe for residents and workers. First of all the EIS is a disclosure document. Applicants are required to disclose potential impacts; they are not required to remediate pre-existing conditions, nor are they even required to mitigate unhealthy conditions that are created by their own projects. And site-specific mitigation may very well lead to the migration of toxic waste to other sites and increase public exposures to unhealthy conditions. The EIS is so inadequate as a tool for environmental improvement that specialists at both the conservative Manhattan Institute’s Center for Rethinking Development and my Center, on the opposite end of the philosophical spectrum, agree that it needs a major overhaul...
City government also wants us to believe that the current plan by its Department of Environmental Protection to flush out the Canal, once it is fully implemented, will constitute an adequate cleanup. However, flushing out the canal will not remove the toxic sediment in the canal or prevent leeching into surrounding properties. It will not resolve the long-term problem of contaminated Combined Sewer Overflows. It will not make further development around the Gowanus Canal safe for people who live and work there.
We hear the argument that even if Superfund cleanup might be better if will take too long and in the meantime prevent new development, which is supposed to mean more jobs and housing units. This is a reckless way of treating public health hazards. It can also result in a net loss of jobs as residential uses replace industry. New residential development within breathing distance of the Gowanus Canal will place many more people at risk of chronic diseases such as cancer and respiratory illnesses. Government has not adequately studied existing levels of exposure or projected future levels of exposure. This is needed so that the public can make informed judgments about whether or not to develop, where to develop, and the precautionary measures that need to be taken.
There is more of his excellent, expert analysis. Please read his whole statement on Pardon Me for Asking.
The Gowanus Canal neighborhood has so much potential. Even now there are some real gems, including a pottery shop and an art gallery (Proteus Gowanus) in a former box factory on the corner of Union St and Third Ave:
The pottery is Claireware, and has some beautiful stuff. From her website:
Proteus Gowanus includes the following ongoing projects all in one building near the canal:
The publishing arm of Proteus Gowanus, an interdisciplinary gallery and reading room in Brooklyn, New York. Proteus Gowanus develops exhibits of art, artifacts, objects and books around a yearlong theme. Related programs are held at the gallery throughout that year.
The Fixers Collective is a social experiment in improvisational fixing and mending that grew out of a yearlong exhibition at Proteus Gowanus entitled MEND.
An archive of visual art, books, documents and ephemera from a 1960’s artist collaborative including Ernst Benkert, Frank Hewitt and Ed Mieczkowski.
This archival installation by Wendy Walker centers on a young British woman named Constance Kent, who in 1865 confessed to the brutal murder of her three year old half-brother. Kent’s detailed narrative, which inspired the first examples in two literary genres, true crime and sensation fiction, does not tally with the facts established by forensic evidence.
Developed by artist/librarian Andrew Beccone, the independent library serves artists, writers and other cultural archeologists.
Hall of the Gowanus
A mini-museum and store of art, artifacts and books related to the Gowanus Canal acknowledges our post-industrial neighbor and namesake as the site of the Revolutionary Battle of Brooklyn; a vital 19th century industrial canal; and the post-industrial polluted waterway and inspiration for artists and writers that it is today. We invite you to help us expand our collection by emailing us ideas for Gowanus-related art, artifacts, books and weblinks. We are interested in an interdisciplinary array of material relating to Gowanus history, art, ecology (past and present) and urban exploration. We are compiling a list for possible inclusion in an expanded Hall of the Gowanus in the future.
Museum of Matches
Developed by artist Sasha Chavchavadze, the Museum of Matches project explores the Cold War through an evolving array of visual art, narrative prose, documents, photographs, memorabilia and publications.
Morbid Anatomy Library
Developed by Joanna Ebenstein, Morbid Anatomy is a project begun in 2007 to survey the interstices of art and medicine, death and culture. The library is usually open by appointment only.
A library and bookstore of books related to the French literary movement, Oulipo, founded in 1960. Oulipian writing involves composing text according to constraints (rules) that are invented and arbitrary. Writers are compelled to say what they had never thought to say in ways they never would have chosen to say it. It is a method for making sense differently; for escaping old or ready-made ideas, subjects, and formulations; for creating many and various alternative realities and discovering what is true in them.
A new exhibition/classroom/event space run by a group of seven artists and bloggers. The space seeks to present programming inspired by the 18th century notion of “rational amusement” and is especially interested in topics residing at the interstices of learning and amusement, art and science, and history and curiosity. The space hosts screenings, lectures, classes and exhibitions.
Bet most people in central Brooklyn don't know we have a great resource like this right in the neighborhood. But overall the neighborhood can be even better...but only if the stink and slime of the canal are cleaned up. If we just let the EPA clean it up we could have a great neighborhood along the canal.