The future of Gowanus

The future of Gowanus

We’ve been talking about the future of Gowanus for a long time now (not quite since the dissolved oxygen level in the Canal reached zero in 1904, though I know sometimes it can feel that way).

Shaping the future of the area in a thoughtful way -- given decades of pollution, the reality of climate change, escalating real estate values, shifting economic trends, and the tensions of growth -- is no easy feat.

But by working together, I truly believe we can get the balance right: For investments in a more sustainable & resilient future. For strengthening the “Gowanus mix” of manufacturing, arts & culture, and mixed-income housing, of old buildings & new ones. For great new parks, open spaces, and community resources. For thoughtful growth with truly shared benefits.

This week, we are taking an important step forward. After hundreds of hours of community planning, 26 working group meetings, 4 large public events, extensive online engagement, and the active participation of homeowners, tenants & public housing residents; artists, environmentalists, preservationists, & manufacturing businesses; and so many of you who care about Gowanus and its future … the NYC Department of City Planning has released Gowanus: A Framework for a Sustainable, Inclusive, Mixed-Use Neighborhood. The goals outlined in the framework reflect many areas of community consensus:

  • Promoting a more sustainable future, where buildings and infrastructure are designed to address flood risk and brownfields today, and sea level rise tomorrow.

  • Creating new, resilient public parks & open spaces around the Canal.

  • Strengthening the “Gowanus mix” of manufacturing, arts & culture, and housing, preserving history and allowing growth, and making sure all residents can benefit from this growth.

  • Promoting new housing, with a strong emphasis on creating and preserving affordable housing (through the City’s “mandatory inclusionary housing” program, maximizing affordability on the City-owned “Public Place” site, and investments in the nearby NYCHA developments).

  • Meeting the infrastructure needs of a growing neighborhood, including schools that reflect the diversity of the community, public transit, and street-safety investments.

The framework will guide future public actions for the Gowanus area. After further community feedback (see below), City Planning will draft a neighborhood plan that includes proposed zoning and land use changes, as well as public investments, to realize these goals. Proposed land use actions would then enter the City’s public review process, or ULURP, which includes more opportunities for public input.

Not everyone will agree with all of the recommendations, of course. Issues of growth and development in New York City are complex, often contentious. Some people will not support new residential development, at heights taller than our surrounding brownstone neighborhoods. But I believe that we can preserve and strengthen what is great about Gowanus, while doing more to share its benefits. This would be one of the first “inclusionary” neighborhood rezonings in a (generally) wealthier area, and therefore an important step to achieve fair-housing and integration goals. And there are real risks to inaction, too.  

Whether you agree or disagree, we are eager for your feedback, both online and in person. The NYC Department of City Planning has set up an interactive website for feedback at And there are two upcoming opportunities to learn more:

  • Presentation to the Community Board 6 Executive Committee on Monday, June 11 at 6:30 pm at in the P.S. 32 Auditorium (317 Hoyt Street, at Union Street). This is open to the public, although first priority for questions and comments will be for CB6 members.

  • Department of City Planning’s “Gowanus Framework Open House” on Wednesday June 27 from 5:00 to 8:30 pm, also at P.S. 32 (317 Hoyt Street, at Union Street). Neighbors will have an opportunity to speak with staff from the Dept. of City Planning, as well as sixteen other City agencies.

We’ve still got a long way to go, and a lot of hard work ahead of us, to shape the future of Gowanus in a way that reflects our shared values. But the work we’ve done together, first in the “Bridging Gowanus” community planning process, and then through City Planning’s Gowanus Neighborhood Planning Study, now reflected in this framework, makes me confident we can get there.

Thanks to all of you who have given your time, energy, ideas, creativity, passion, and hard work to this process, and to strengthening Gowanus more generally.