‘Getting Gowanus Right’: Bridging Gowanus Kicks Off Series Of Public Conversations

The Lightstone construction project on the Gowanus Canal.
Photo by Donny Levit / Park Slope Stoop

The next phase in the Bridging Gowanus community planning process kicked off on Tuesday, August 9 at The Bell House, providing the public an opportunity to share input on the future of the Gowanus neighborhood. Residents, volunteers, business owners and advocates gathered to prioritize recommendations for the future development of the area.

The open house event, which was full of conversation and informational posters, brought together stakeholders to dialogue about their visions for a stronger, healthier and responsible Gowanus.

“It’s not easy for a community to plan for the future amidst change. But the need and the opportunity are clear,” Council Member Brad Lander said in a press release. “Getting Gowanus right will take a different way of doing things. Working together, we can insure a sustainable, mixed-use, creative, and inclusive future for Gowanus.”

Bridging Gowanus, led by Lander, is an effort to activate the community to shape the future of the Gowanus neighborhood in a time of ongoing change, real estate pressure and the Superfund cleanup. Between 2013-2015, more than 300 stakeholders participated in meetings and conversations to generate a framework and recommendations for the future of the neighborhood.

Lander received some heat last time around, when activists disrupted a planning meeting. According to Brooklyn Paper, those protestors believed Lander was “glossing over local anger about luxury residential building projects while trying to cultivate an image of resident support for whatever he has planned.”

The recommendations fall under six categories that cover the spectrum of development and zoning concerns. They range from securing infrastructure investments that support the cleanup of the Gowanus Canal to making the waterfront publicly accessible to creating affordable housing.

On a tour last May, Gowanus: Brooklyn’s Curious Canal author and activist Joseph Alexiou led a group along Bond Street to the intersection of President Street where he pointed out a “PRIVATE PROPERTY: No Trespassing” sign leading towards the waterfront. “It’s a false sign,” he said, proving his point by walking past the gate. “We are legally allowed to enter here. Waterfronts were built for the public,” he said.

bridging gowanus
The jars where attendees placed their “voting” tickets. (Photo by Amy Holiday / Park Slope Stoop)

During Tuesday’s open house, community members each received ten tickets. They used the tickets to vote on initiatives within these categories they cared most about. The results of the votes will help inform the conversations at the next group meeting later this month. The informal process, which was participatory, open and friendly, also provided attendees the opportunity to connect and share thoughts on their visions for the future.

Lucy Robson who has lived in the area for two years was eager to look at all the “building blocks that make up the community” and felt that the open house was an opportunity to do that. Robson, who works at a local non-profit committed to increasing access to parks, said she hopes the Gowanus Canal will transform into a waterway the public feels safe in and can enjoy.

“You get fatigued by the day to day of not being able to use the canal,” she said.

bridging gowanus
Photo by Amy Holiday / Park Slope Stoop

Starting this fall, the NYC Department of City Planning with launch a “PLACES” study of the Gowanus, researching its potential for residential and business development. Lander and his office re-launched Bridging Gowanus to bring the recommendations of the public to the forefront of the city’s conversations that will launch in earnest in a few months.

Gowanus resident Billy Weitzer who attended the open house said the process is an example of Lander bringing the community together for important reasons.

“I believe in the future of this neighborhood,” Weitzer said, “Gowanus has been like the wild west and I want to see its development done in a coordinated way.”

Community members who are interested in further engaging with Bridging Gowanus can attend upcoming events or visit BridgingGowanus.org to complete an online survey (go to the site and click the “Weigh In” circle) to help prioritize recommendations.

Here’s a list of future events and locations for Bridging Gowanus.

Drop-In Hours: August 18-19, noon to 6:00 pm, Fifth Avenue Committee (621 Degraw Street)

Open House: August 19, 5:00-8:00pm, Fifth Avenue Committee’s Annual Summer Party (621 Degraw Street)

Open House: August 22, 5:00 -8:00pm, Coworkrs Gowanus (68 3rd Street)

Drop-In Hours: August 23-26, 9:00am-5:00pm, Coworkrs Gowanus (68 3rd Street)

Open House: September 8, 6:30-8:30pm, The Hall of the Gowanus (543 Union Street, down the alley on Nevins Street)

Drop-In Hours: September 6-9, 12pm-6:00pm, The Hall of the Gowanus (543 Union Street, down the alley on Nevins Street)

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Amy Holiday

Amy Holiday is a writer who lives in Park Slope. She works in education and is dazzled by all things Brooklyn.

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