Three hundred people show up for first strategy session
By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Three hundred residents, artists, environmentalists and business owners took the first exciting steps toward outlining the future of Gowanus when they attended a meeting organized by elected officials on Monday.
The Dec. 9 meeting was part of Bridging Gowanus, a community planning process that is aimed at creating a blueprint to inform the incoming de Blasio Administration’s decisions about land use in the area.
Bridging Gowanus was conceived by a group of lawmakers that includes Councilman Brad Lander, U.S. Rep. Nydia Velázquez, state Sen. Velmanette Montgomery, Assemblywoman Joan Millman and Councilman Stephen Levin.
The goal is to have a community-driven planning process and to give the community an opportunity to directly impact infrastructure planning, land-use regulations, and environmental measures, officials said.
“Bridging Gowanusis off to a great start,” said Lander (D-Park Slope), who issued a statement the day after the meeting. “Residents came last night with the smart ideas and volunteer energy we will need to make this successful. In the coming months, we will work together on a long-term vision for the canal area and push for it become a reality."
The Gowanus Canal is surrounded by several communities including Park Slope, Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens and Red Hook. The canal empties into New York Harbor.
In 2010, the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) added the canal to its Superfund National Priorities List, a move that allows the agency to expedite a cleanup.
The Gowanus Canal is one of the nation’s most contaminated bodies of water, according to the EPA. The pollution is the result of years of discharges, storm water runoff, sewer outflows and industrial pollutants, the EPA said. The contaminants include PCBs, coal tar wastes, heavy metals and volatile organics, according to the EPA.
The Bridging Gowanus initiative is aimed at planning the future of a new, cleaned-up canal, as well as the future of the surrounding community, officials said.
Velazquez (D-Brooklyn-Manhattan) said she was pleased with the first session. “By drawing together residents, businesses and local stakeholders, we can ensure the canal’s future reflects the vision of the community for a sustainable future,” she said. “This process will help develop our collective priorities for the canal following EPA's finalized cleanup plan and Superstorm Sandy as we head into the next city administration.”
Community members who were not able to attend the first meeting can still be involved in the process by visiting BridgingGowanus.org, signing up for the email list, and joining a working group.
“I was so impressed with the huge turnout at last night's meeting,” Abby Subak, director of Arts Gowanus, said. “The energy and engagement that came from all of those people is evidence of how much the Gowanus community cares about the future of Gowanus. I heard so many thoughtful, knowledgeable and creative ideas that I am confident we will be able to create a shared vision for the future of Gowanus."
Hurricane Sandy, which pushed the canal over its banks and flooded nearby homes and businesses, has also brought new urgency to the situation, officials said.
Ben Jones, a member of the board of the Gowanus Canal Conservancy, said his group is happy to participate in the Bridging Gowanus effort. The idea is to “come up with a plan and a vision that works for everyone,” he said.
The heavily attended first meeting was a demonstration of the momentum for the project’s goals, according to local activist Josh Skaller. “Residents of the surrounding communities made clear a broad based consensus for an integrated and thorough cleanup followed by a plan that preserves the neighborhood character, plans for climate change, and puts a premium on enhancing access and use of the canal, creating and maintaining a balance of light manufacturing, artist and local retail space, schools for our children, and affordable housing,” he stated.
The Pratt Center for Community Development is assisting in facilitating the Bridging Gowanus process. The community’s blueprint will be released in the summer of 2014.