Federal Superfund site, manufacturing and arts hub, and working class community in the midst of gentrification- the area around the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn is undergoing a historic transformation.

In response to these changes, a “planning framework” for the neighborhood has been developed which organizers, like the office of Council Member Brad Lander, say heavily incorporates public input.

A draft of the framework, called Bridging Gowanus, was released by local elected officials and community leaders just before Thanksgiving. Public participation in the planning process was facilitated by the Pratt Center for Community Development.

Described as a “drastic change from a polluted, toxic, EPA Superfund, the Bridging Gowanus framework imagines a neighborhood with parks, open space, and public canal access.”

The plan calls for existing public parks in Gowanus to be renovated and connected via a “Gowanus Greenscape” network that includes access to the Canal at public sites, historic interpretation at preserved buildings and other locations, and a public arts program.

In a statement, Council Member Lander’s office said the project’s ultimate goal is a “community-supported blueprint to inform the de Blasio Administration’s decisions about land use in the area.”

Infrastructure Investment & Managed Growth in Gowanus

The Bridging Gowanus plan calls for infrastructure investments and land use regulations which community leaders say are needed to “insure a sustainable, vibrant, and inclusive future” for the area.

The plan is organized around five principles:

  • Investing in sustainable infrastructure;
  • Strengthening local manufacturing through the creation of a new Gowanus Manufacturing Zone restricting hotels, big box retail, self-storage facilities, nightclubs and large-scale offices;
  • Maintaining the area’s current mix of uses– light industry, artistic and cultural activities, retail and housing;
  • Preserving and creating affordable housing;
  • Developing a “pathway for responsible growth,” such as residential development in taller buildings, but only if community goals for “infrastructure, resiliency, sustainability, a genuine mix of uses, good jobs, and affordability” are also met.

Sustainable infrastructure is a critical part of the plan due to the area’s growing vulnerability to flooding and storm surges.

Infrastructure projects, such as Canal cleanup, flood mitigation, new parks and green spaces, improvements to public transportation and new school seats, will receive at least partial support from Superfund resources and existing public investments, say planners.

A new Gowanus “tax increment financing” (TIF) mechanism, capturing increases in property value, has also been proposed to help finance area-wide infrastructure improvements.

“Preserving the Character” of Gowanus

The framework includes a range of urban planning strategies which planners say are designed to “preserve the character” of Gowanus.

This includes the Gowanus Green Affordable Housing Development, proposed for the six-acre “Public Place” site along the west side of the Canal, between 5th and 7th Streets.

Council Member Lander’s office says the development would include a waterfront park, and 8 buildings ranging from 5 to 14 stories, creating 774 units of rental and for-sale housing and 65,000 square feet of community and retail space.

Seventy percent, 540, of the units will be “affordable to households at a very wide range of incomes,” with more than 100 apartments designated as “affordable rentals for seniors.”

According to Lander’s office, Bridging Gowanus received input from more than 300 community “stakeholders” – including long-time and newer homeowners, tenants and NYCHA residents, small business owners, environmental activists, artists, affordable housing advocates, and others.

The “comprehensive” plan has community consensus says Council Member Lander. However, the document itself notes that some local residents do not support more residential development in the Gowanus area.

The planning framework could eventually become the basis for a full-fledged area plan created by the New York City Department of City Planning.

The public can comment on the draft planning framework through the end of the year.