November 2017
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MAS Patrons Get Up Close and Personal with the Gowanus Canal

On September 24th, an intrepid group of Richard Morris Hunt patrons gathered for a private boat tour of the Gowanus Canal. The tour was a rare opportunity to visit a historic waterway and see some of Brooklyn’s most interesting historic industrial buildings and travel through the “museum” of historic draw bridges still in operation on the canal.

The discussion on the boat focused on the fact that the canal and the adjacent manufacturing area is currently at the center of a debate about how to best clean New York’s polluted waterways and sensitively develop in its manufacturing zones. The tour leaders, Lisa Kersavage, Senior Director of Advocacy and Public Policy at MAS, Dan Wiley, Community Coordinator for US Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez, and Josh Verleun, Staff Attorney/Investigator of Riverkeeper, a NY-based nonprofit that advocates for clean water, all brought different perspectives to those issues.

Dan Wiley spoke extensively about the history of the Gowanus Canal, which was completed in 1869 and by the early 1900s it had already earned its nickname, “Lavender Lake,” because a noxious stew of pollutants and raw sewage colored it a lavender hue. Reactivating the Canal’s pumping station in 1999 improved the water quality, but it remains so polluted that the EPA proposes listing it as a national Superfund site, which the City of New York adamantly opposes. Josh Verleun discussed the Canal’s pollutants and polluters and Riverkeeper’s support of the Superfund designation.

Construction of the canal spurred tremendous industrial development along its banks and the area remains a manufacturing hub. The city is proposing to rezone 25 blocks along the Gowanus Canal to allow for a mix of uses, including residential, in this manufacturing district. The Municipal Art Society is advocating for solutions to retain and foster the manufacturing businesses and to ensure that the Gowanus area’s historic buildings, and sense of place, are protected. Given the Gowanus area’s tremendous potential to create jobs and potentially incubate new industries, MAS has questioned whether rezoning the Gowanus area to privilege residential development is prudent, especially since the area presents such serious environmental and infrastructure challenges.