The future we want for Gowanus: help us get there

The future we want for Gowanus: help us get there

A few short years ago, the future for Gowanus looked bleak. The canal was toxic, with no plan to clean it up. Businesses were on the decline. New housing on 4th Avenue displaced existing residents, was zero percent affordable, and featured ground-floor parking garage grilles blighting the streetscape.

We’re making some genuine progress. Thanks to the EPA’s Superfund process, a real cleanup is on the way. New businesses are springing up – light manufacturing, artists, materials re-use, co-working, and more. We’ve got funding in the budget for new parks and schools.  

Now, we face new challenges. Real estate pressures threaten manufacturing businesses, artists, and affordable housing. Current trends will yield more hotels, self-storage facilities, and big-box stores which do little to strengthen our neighborhood. Long-term disinvestment in infrastructure means streets that flood, dilapidated public housing, and a continued need for schools, open space, and transit.

So the next steps – in shaping the future for Gowanus we want – are up to us.

That’s why, three years ago, local elected officials and community groups came together to convene the Bridging Gowanus community planning process: to shape a sustainable, livable, and inclusive future for the Gowanus Canal area. Between 2013 and 2015, over 300 of you took part in more than 20 meetings to discuss issues and develop recommendations.

We didn’t always see eye to eye, of course. But the work we did together has laid a solid foundation for thoughtful, community-led planning and strong public action to shape our shared future.

Now, we are starting the next phase of our work together.

This fall, the New York City Department of City Planning will begin conversations in our community to develop a planning and land-use framework to put the Bridging Gowanus goals into action.  

As we prepare for these next steps, we need your feedback.

The Bridging Gowanus recommendations were developed by long-time and newer homeowners, tenants, NYCHA residents, small business owners, environmental activists, artists, affordable housing advocates, and more. Now, we hope you will weigh in to help prioritize them.

  • Read the recommendations for a sustainable, livable, and inclusive Gowanus neighborhood.
  • Weigh in on what is most important to you by taking the Bridging Gowanus online survey (open from now until September 15th).
  • Join us at an “open house” this summer, to weigh in in-person. The first will be Tuesday, August 9th, from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m. at The Bell House (149 7th Street). Others will take place throughout August and September (click the “Visit Us” tab at for dates and times).

 Getting Gowanus right will take a different way of doing things.

People have good reason to be skeptical. So much of the development we’ve seen in recent years does nothing to strengthen our neighborhoods. As I told New York Times architecture and planning critic Michael Kimmelman, who wrote about Gowanus this week, “shaping real estate development in a capitalist economy is no easy feat.”

But inaction will not preserve what makes Gowanus unique. You know it, and I know it.

As Arts Gowanus director Abby Subak put it, in today’s DNA Info article about the next steps in the Gowanus planning process: "Many of us love [Gowanus] the way it is, and wish it wouldn't change at all, but that is not the way New York City works. Here, we want to engage these questions and proactively create a community that will continue to be a vibrant creative community, even as it evolves."

Together, we can make sure that new growth will advance the community’s goals:

  • To clean up the Canal and the land nearby, and guarantee a resilient and sustainable neighborhood.
  • To make sure we get the infrastructure investments we need – in schools, parks, open space, and transit.
  • To preserve and strengthen the Gowanus mix of uses so the balance doesn’t tip (as it already has started to) towards hotels, self-storage, and big-box retail – and away from manufacturing that offers good jobs, artists, not-for-profit organizations, and other uses that make Gowanus a creative and interesting place.
  • To make Gowanus a more inclusive neighborhood, with genuinely affordable and mixed-income housing – because without action, this part of Brooklyn will become ever more a neighborhood of only of the very wealthy.

Our chances of seeing a future Gowanus based on the values we have – sustainability, livability, inclusion – are far better if we try to shape that development ourselves, rather than just cross our fingers and hope change doesn’t come.

That’s why we’re so eager to get everyone involved in the next steps in the process. We won’t always agree – but we will do better by including everyone’s voices.

Please take a look at the Bridging Gowanus recommendations, take the online survey, and plan to attend one of the open houses. Help spread the word to neighbors, and make sure they are on our email list, so we can let everyone know about next steps in the conversations with the Department of City Planning this fall.

Together, we can build on the progress we’ve made so far, have honest conversations about the challenges, and make thoughtful choices to shape Gowanus’ future.

I hope you’ll join us

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