Monday, January 09, 2006

Exploring Our Coasts and Waterfronts: The Gowanus Canal

CMRC's Sustainable Coasts Program facilitates an information exchange among coastal communities worldwide to increase knowledge and understanding of regional conservation and management practices. As part of this effort, the Sustainable Coasts Program will periodically explore the waterfronts and coastlines of the New York - New Jersey Harbor Bight (and in the future of other regions worldwide). The first installation of the Sustainable Coasts Programs explores the Gowanus Canal and surrounding community. JB

The Gowanus Canal, originally called Gowanes Creek after Gouwane of the local Lenape tribe called the Canarsee, is one of the most highly industrialized and polluted waterways in the United States. However, in recent years the Canal has started to recover and is now home to a vibrant community that incorporates the residents and businesses of Gowanus, Red Hook, Carroll Gardens, Park Slope and Boerum Hill. These days, local residents are often seen recreating on and around the Canal and thanks to an active local constituency, recovery and management plans are being developed and implemented to improve conservation and public access to the waterway.

The Gowanus Canal once was home to a great natural ecosystem that contained an amazing amount of wildlife and tremendously valuable habitat. Anecdotal references indicate that prior to the industrialization of the Creek, oysters and other sealife were abundant and regularly consumed by local residents, which included soldiers who inhabited the Old Stone House during the American Revolution. However, as the Creek became more developed bulkheads replaced marshes, and eventually the amount of pollution introduced to the habitat led to a significant decrease in the biological productivity of the area.

Fortunately in recent years, thanks to the support of local organizations such as the Gowanus Canal Community Development Corporation and elected officials in the region, the Canal has been on the rebound. One project, implemented by the New York City Department of Environmental Protection was able to repair a defunct flushing tunnel that circulates the waters of the canal and has greatly improved water quality.

Several developers have purchased real estate in the area and are in the process of creating plans for how the land will be used. Local residents, environmental organizations and the developers have already started to work together to create a vision for the Canal - some see it as a Venice of the East Coast - and the upcoming years will certainly prove critical in the planning and management of its future.

For more information...

Gowanus Canal Community Development Corporation

Gowanus Canal History

Gowanus Community Draft Plan

Community Board 6

Gowanus Dredgers Canoe Club

Bridges of the Gowanus Canal

Park Slope, Carroll Gardens, Gowanus Map and Descriptions and CB6 Neighborhoods

NY Times: Gowanus

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