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Banks of Polluted Gowanus Best Site for NYC's Next Big Park, Group Says

By Amy Zimmer | June 14, 2017 9:39am
 The Gowanus Canal Conservancy wants to turn the canal and area around it into a park network.
The Gowanus Canal Conservancy wants to turn the canal and area around it into a park network.
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DNAinfo/Amy Zimmer

BROOKLYN — Can the banks along the notoriously polluted Gowanus Canal become a glittering new park attracting visitors from across the city?

The Gowanus Canal Conservancy certainly believes so, and is planning to unveil its “Gowanus Lowlands: A Blueprint for NYC’s Next Great Park” at a fundraising event Tuesday at the Bell House, celebrating the group’s 10th anniversary working toward cleaning up the Superfund site.

The blueprint imagines a network of parks and public spaces centered on the canal and its surrounding watershed and would allow visitors to “fully engage with all Gowanus has to offer, from its native plants and wildlife, to its thriving industry, to its hidden creeks and hypnotic waterway,” according to an announcement from the conservancy.

The canal’s future is at a critical point, as the federally mandated cleanup of the Superfund site is underway. The city is expected to rezone the area, and City Councilman Brad Lander is leading a community-based effort, "Bridging Gowanus," to inform the city’s changes. The Department of City Planning is piloting a site called "Plan Gowanus," as a digital community engagement platform with updates on the planning process and seeking input from locals.

Meanwhile, development in the area has ramped up as major firms have bought up property in the area, but other land owners are waiting to see the city’s next steps before making their moves.

The conservancy wants to ensure that the community has a major role in shaping open space in the watershed that is “accessible, active, and clean for all.”

The blueprint, created with the help of landscape architecture studio SCAPE, builds on two years of conversations with residents, land owners, advocates, elected officials and others to identify the areas priorities, including open space, water access and jobs.

The Gowanus Canal has long inspired dreamers to envision a new life for toxic waterway as a local version of Venice, complete with gondolas.

But the conservancy says it wants to figure out what can become reality.

In the next six to nine months, the organization will solicit community input on the blueprint as it works toward creating a “master plan” to identify its next steps.