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Imagining A Cleaner Future For The Icky Gowanus Canal

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Gowanus is drawing a lot of attention these days, for its current residential boom... as well as its $38 salted caramel pie and the newly opened shuffleboard bar. Of particular interest to Curbed, though, are the fanciful visions various architects and community members are putting forth regarding the the long, expensive cleanup of the totally polluted Gowanus Canal. According to the Times, the neighborhood hopes to remain "the kind of place where things sold on [craft and vintage retail website] Etsy are made," in opposition to a completely gentrified neighborhood like Dumbo (where, it so happens, Etsy maintains its corporate headquarters). Now, how to spruce up that pesky canal?

What sets Gowanus apart, columnist Ginia Bellafante emphasizes, is not only its residential and industrial presence but also locals' inherent interest in the surrounding somewhat-natural landscape. Last month, in light of the Superfund site remediation, the neighborhood played host to a TEDx conference during which architect Ate Atema and landscape architect Susannah Drake of dlandstudio presented conceptual designs for enhancing the functionality of the canal in handling its water and sewage overflow.

Atema's plan, Street Creeks, proposes an intricate and expansive network of curbside channels, cisterns, and vegetation that would help filter and divert water before it runs off into the canal. Not dissimilarly, Drake's Sponge Park consists of soil-filled concrete cells, which would be installed under the street to catch and filter stormwater before it, too, pours into the beleaguered canal.

Both plans emphasize the neighborhood's ecological development and not just its building boom, highlighted most strongly when gentrification beacon Whole Foods planted its roots at Third Street and Third Avenue late last year. "People are coming in and paying a million dollars for a house between two factories and complaining," a neighborhood business owner tells the Times. The same neighbor remarked on the difference between the neighborhood's older industrial roots and new homeowners or tenants: "We need the city to send the message that if you're living next to a factory, you have to deal with it. We're not the factories of yesteryear who polluted the canal." Here's hoping Atema or Drake will be able to make the canal a more palatable place.
· The Once and Future Gowanus [NYT]
· Street Creeks [official]
· All Sponge Park coverage [Curbed]
· All Gowanus Canal coverage [Curbed]