GOWANUS — With gritty Gowanus poised for a major transformation, elected officials are inviting residents to weigh in on the neighborhood's future.
City Councilman Brad Lander, U.S. Rep. Nydia Velázquez and other politicians are hosting an initiative called Bridging Gowanus, where they'll collect input from locals, at a series of public forums starting Monday, Dec. 9.
"The future of the Gowanus area is being set," Lander said in a statement announcing the initiative. "Let's come together as a community and ensure that our vision is at the center of the discussion."
The initiative comes as the canal-side neighborhood is on the cusp of big changes. A massive Whole Foods gourmet grocery store is scheduled to open by the end of 2013 at Third Avenue and Third Street, and the Lightstone Group is about to start work on a 700-unit housing development on the banks of the heavily polluted stream.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will soon begin a decade-long cleanup of the canal, one of the country's dirtiest waterways.
The Bridging Gowanus initiative will tackle major questions, such as whether residential development should be allowed in the industrial neighborhood, how to protect Gowanus from flooding and how to preserve the area's thriving manufacturing and artisanal businesses, according to the initiative's website.
Lander said in a statement that the project's goal is to "bring together a wide range of viewpoints to identify broadly shared goals, engage in honest conversation about different viewpoints, and build as much as consensus as we can."
Some locals are skeptical that Bridging Gowanus will give the public a real voice. "[I] doubt that at its conclusion, the community will be able to truly influence the outcome," neighborhood blogger Katia Kelly wrote on Pardon Me For Asking.
But Kelly encouraged people to attend the meetings, to "tell our politicians that before any new development is envisioned, we need to first find out what the Gowanus can sustain."
Others see it as a genuine chance to help shape the neighborhood's future. Among them is Abby Subak, director of Arts Gowanus, which runs Gowanus Open Studios.
"We all have seen what has happened in other neighborhoods where decisions have been made without the input of the community,” Subak said in a statement announcing the initiative. "We are looking forward to participating in this process and defining how a Gowanus of the future can continue to support artists."
The first Bridging Gowanus public forum will be held Monday, Dec. 9 at P.S. 372, also called The Children's School, at 512 Carroll St.