The Gowanus Canal: Putting the FUN in SuperFund!

Kentile Sign from the 3rd Street Bridge 2006

I have such fondness for the Gowanus, the wee little waterway lacing through Brooklyn's industrial dreck. When I cross the canal, I think of skipping stones and feeding ducks on its banks and get all wistful like Wordsworth on the Wye. And then I inhale.

Like Shel Silverstein's The Giving Tree, the Gowanus gave us everything we asked of it: At the beginning, food and water, then passageways inland for commerce, run offs for our sewage and industrial waste; we, all the while taking and taking until the sweet Gowanus could give us no more.

Except gonorrhea. Cholera, typhoid, and typhus are also in there. After a rain storms and the sewers become flooded, the Canal's waters turn from its usual dark gray to greenish because of algae feeding on the human waste. Last dredged in 1975, there is at least 25 feet of "black mayonnaise" sediment hosting god knows what at the bottom. There is also s thick white glop along the bottom that scientists are adapting for medicinal purposes, due to its wicked immunity to bacteria.

But the Gowanus has also inspired some very cool projects, serving as a muse in a way. That long cauldron of goo has been an incubator for all kinds of cool creativity. Music, video, photography, painting, not to mention some pretty great parties.  Much of the old factory and warehouse space has been converted into studio and performance space, like the fabulous Bell House. The warehouses make for great gallery space as well, like the Observatory Room and Proteus Gowanus.

Before the SuperFund designation, there were grand plans for a "sponge" park and esplanade and fancy development to revitalize the the now underutilized canal area. There are two camps on the SuperFund designation: those that feel the designation will forever malign the area and thus prevent growth and development (and keep property values down) and those that feel a federal commitment to actually clean the waterway will only enhance the area (and property values) in the long run. No one disagrees on the fact the a SuperFund clean up could take years, perhaps more than a decade to ultimately litigate and clean. The former camp just had a bit of reality as a major developer just pulled out of Gowanus development and the future of the Sponge park is uncertain. Yet the SuperFund clean up might just give the Gowanus Canal the renaissance it deserves. Isn't that the least we could do after all it has given us?

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