November 2017
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Gowanus: A Great Place to Work, But to Live?

The City is proposing to rezone 25 blocks along the canal to allow for a mix of uses, including residential, commercial, retail, light industrial, community facility and artist spaces. The Department of City Planning will have a hearing tomorrow about the rezoning. MAS will be there and share how the thriving manufacturing district could be a tremendous opportunity to nurture and safeguard existing businesses and create space for new industries and sorely needed job growth.

Businesses located within the Gowanus area support many jobs. Manufacturing and industrial businesses in and around the rezoning area support 1,300 jobs (with approximately 540 within the rezoning area). The rezoning is taking place in the Southwest Brooklyn Industrial Area, a district created by the City to “foster high-performing business districts by creating competitive advantages over locating in areas outside of New York City.” These businesses appreciate the relative isolation in which they operate in the Gowanus as well as the ready access they have to major transportation routes. The Gowanus Canal is also an integral part of this system, and continued barging on the Gowanus helps us reduce our carbon footprint by eliminating the equivalent of over two-hundred thousand truck trips from our streets and highways.

MAS’ concern is that the City’s plan provides incentives to build eight to twelve story buildings along the northern portion of the Canal.  But, is this a good place to allow mid-to high-density residential development?

The area lies in a flood plain, and locals who walk or bike across the canal are often met by the putrid odors rising from the canal due to the lack of adequate storm-water and sewage infrastructure. If it rains, the situation becomes even more dismal as the area’s streets become flooded by water contaminated by raw sewage. The Gowanus Canal has also been the site of intensive industrial activity for over 150 years, and those businesses left behind petroleum and other environmental contaminants that pose serious health risks.

So when we think about the Canal Corridor holistically, new residential development may not be the best solution here. In our statement, we propose some creative solutions that might be applied to protect and strengthen light manufacturing job growth. Given the Gowanus area’s tremendous potential to create jobs and potentially incubate new industries, we question whether rezoning the Gowanus area to privilege residential development is prudent, especially since the area presents such serious environmental and infrastructure challenges.