Don’t drive into the Gowanus. Help us improve the parks instead!

Don’t drive into the Gowanus. Help us improve the parks instead!

First things first: don’t drive your car into the Gowanus Canal – as an out-of-state, hit-and-run driver did over the weekend, after he hit a parked car and slightly injured a woman and her infant daughter (all three of them are going to be fine, and he was taken into custody).

A better way to get involved in Gowanus: work with us to improve the parks and open space in the neighborhood.  

As one part of my office’s “Bridging Gowanus” initiative, we’re working to create, upgrade, and connect public open space throughout the neighborhood. The long-term goal is a “Gowanus Greenscape” that would connect a series of parks, plazas, canal-front open space, safe places to walk and bike, public art, and a clean, publicly-accessible canal.

We’ve got a long way to go toward that vision, but – thanks to the work of some great partners, especially the Gowanus Canal Conservancy, the Gowanus Alliance, and Gowanus by Design – we’re off to a great start.

I hope you’ll take a look at what we’re up to, fill out the Ennis Playground survey (if you use the park or live nearby – details below), and get involved.

New Parks Improvements Underway

At Ennis Playground (located between 11th & 12th Streets and 2nd & 3rd Avenues), Borough President Eric Adams and I have allocated $2.5 million in public funding to renovate the park. Thanks to advocacy from neighbors, the Gowanus Alliance, and the Gowanus Canal Conservancy, the whole park will get a major upgrade over the next two years, including the children’s play area, basketball court, and seating area

A few weeks ago, my office hosted a community “scoping” meeting with the Parks Department to talk about what the renovated playground will look like. If you couldn’t make the meeting but still want to weigh in, fill out this survey by this Sunday, January 24 and we’ll share the results with the designers at the Parks Department.

In the meantime, you can check out (as well as sit or climb on) the public art that was installed in Ennis Playground in the fall as part of our Gowanus public art initiative with Arts Gowanus, the Old Stone House, and Groundswell Community Mural Project.

On the other side of the canal at St. Mary’s Playground (under the F and G tracks, along Smith Street from Luquer to Huntington Streets), BP Adams, the MTA, and I have allocated $2.7 million for a two-part renovation. Last June, the NYC Parks Department presented a design for the southern part of the park that includes play areas for children of different ages, spray showers, new plantings, and tables and chairs. In November, the Parks Department presented a design for Phase II, which includes plans for a skate park, basketball courts, turf field, fitness equipment, and a walking track. Big thanks to District Leader Paige Bellenbaum for collecting feedback from over 400 community members who weighed in on the park’s design.

Planning for the Future with Great Community Partners

A great deal of credit for improvements to Gowanus’ parks and open space goes to several community partners and nonprofits. Gowanus Alliance and Gowanus By Design have been important partners in open space design and planning, and the Gowanus Canal Conservancy, has engaged in a wide range of planning, design, education, and stewardship projects in the area. Last year alone GCC successfully organized over 1,300 volunteers in “Clean and Green” stewardship events, engaged another 400 students in environmental projects, and even trained volunteer stewards in a Bioswale Maintenance class, among many other projects. My office is working closely with these great organizations on a range of projects in Gowanus including:

  • Bringing “Under the Tracks” open space back to life: Years ago, the vacant lot on 10th Street between Second and Third Avenues was home to “Fran Brady Under the Tracks Playground.” While it may not be the perfect place for a playground, we are working together – my office, the Gowanus Canal Conservancy, Gowanus Alliance Gowanus by Design, and the surrounding neighbors – to launch a discussion with the MTA about a new future for the space.  There was a robust community brainstorming session last November, where we heard a lot of great short, medium, and long term ideas for reactivating this open space as a vibrant resource for the Gowanus community.
  • Developing a Gowanus Greenscape Vision Plan: Last summer, the Gowanus Canal Conservancy organized a series of planning meetings to start developing a community-based vision for the network that will connect publicly accessible landscapes around the Gowanus Canal: including parks and playgrounds, along with bioswales, street end gardens, esplanades, shorelines, and bridges. This Gowanus Greenscape will be a vibrant open space network that will reflect the needs and priorities of the people who live, work, and play in the Gowanus neighborhood. You can read more here and participate in GCC's interactive map, sharing your thoughts on existing open spaces and where you want more of it! Look out for next steps in the coming year.

Green Infrastructure

The “green infrastructure” projects that I wrote about in our last update about the canal clean-up, are not only a critical component of the canal clean up – they absorb rainwater, reduce wastewater overflows, and minimize street flooding. They also contribute to the Gowanus Greenscape:

  • In April, the City announced that it would install 90 bioswales, or “curbside gardens,” at locations throughout the Gowanus watershed. Bioswales look like large tree beds, but are specially designed with particular soils, stones, and vegetation to collect and absorb rainwater from streets and sidewalks. (More details here.) Construction is currently underway on 1st Street, near 4th and 5th Avenues, where the sidewalk has been excavated, backfilled with graded stone and engineered soil, and new curbs installed.  You can see if there’s a location coming to your block here.
  • Also under construction is the Sponge Park, which you may have seen in the New York Times last December. At the end of 2nd Street, this 2,100 square foot park will absorb thousands of gallons of rainwater and the pollutants it washes off city streets, like litter, bird droppings, dog waste, and contaminants produced by cars such as antifreeze, cadmium, oil, and zinc.

The cleanup will impact two other nearby open spaces. As mentioned in my last update, as part of the cleanup, the EPA is requiring the City to construct two underground retention tanks to capture wastewater that today overflows into the canal during storms.

  • The southern tank is expected to be constructed at the “Salt Lot,” a City-owned property at 2nd Avenue and 5th Street – located at a juncture on the canal with great views – now used by the NYC Department of Sanitation (for salt storage) and the Gowanus Canal Conservancy’s compost program (you may know this space from recently having composted your Christmas Tree there). In the long term, after the tank is constructed, GCC hopes to activate the lot as an even stronger open space.
  • The northern tank will be constructed either (a) under the Douglass & Degraw (“Double D”) Pool at Thomas Greene Playground (which will, in any case, be temporarily removed and reconstructed in order to excavate coal tar contamination); or (b) on two privately-owned properties along the canal between Butler and Degraw Streets (which would be acquired or taken through eminent domain proceedings). The City of New York prefers the canal-side private properties, which would reduce the length of time the pool is closed, prevent any diminution of pool/park size for the tank, and create the opportunity for additional canal-front open space. Supporters of locating the tank beneath the pool  argue it would be faster, since no additional acquisition or eminent domain is needed. The EPA will make their final decisions in the coming months. While there is debate about the location, there is agreement that both tanks (north and south) will be built as part of the Superfund remedy.

The two tanks will go a long way to reduce combined sewer overflows (CSOs) and improve Gowanus Canal – with open spaces on top that we will need to work together to shape, improve, and protect.

It will still be years before a true “Gowanus Greenscape” connects the parks, open spaces, plazas, green infrastructure, and livable streets nearby – but our current projects give you a glimpse of what’s coming.

Open space is just one of several key shared goals for Bridging Gowanus – along with infrastructure investments for a clean and sustainable future, strengthening manufacturing, preserving the mix of uses, and mixed-income housing for an inclusive community. I hope you’ll check out the full Bridging Gowanus community planning framework if you haven’t already.  

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