NYC Flood Maps: Gowanus Site Visit

I conducted a site visit of Gowanus, Brooklyn. Gowanus is a small neighborhood adjacent to Red Hook, Carroll Gardens, and Park Slope. The neighborhood is relatively small both geographically and in population with about 15,000 residents. The community is defined by a polluted canal which is a superfund site currently targeted for cleanup which bisects the neighborhood. Additionally, the area is currently undergoing rapid change as the former industrial uses along the canal give way to modern high rise condo and residential buildings, a change exemplified by the arrival of a Whole Foods. Despite these changes, Gowanus is also home to two large NYCHA complexes comprising about 1/3 of the population. The neighborhood seems to be home to three main groups, low-income NYCHA residents, wealthy new arrivals occupying the newer residential buildings, and a relatively large artist and maker community living in converted former warehouse spaces.

Gowanus is at considerable risk to flooding, largely along the canal, which is exacerbated by the contaminated nature of the canal and surrounding land. The conversion of the industrial spaces along the canal to new construction has the potential to increase the resiliency of the community with more resilient building typologies, however, it also threatens to disrupt existing social networks and place more residential units within the flood plain.

Image showing 2007 100-year floodplain with additional Sandy inundation beyond its bounds as well as buildings impacted. The flooding occurs along the existing polluted canal.

During my site visit I reveled in the many different, sometimes contradicting, aesthetics of the community and also enjoyed the neighborhoods sense of humor about its location and status as a super fund site. The biggest realization I had while visiting the community is the difficulty in determining while moving through a city which areas are within or without of the flood plain. These boundaries are largely invisible to citizens and it is not clear at all which parcels are in danger and which are safe. This makes residnets ability to properly and adequately assess risk more dificult, even if a map shows their property as within a flood zone, there is no indication of danger during dry weather. Of course proximity to water is an indication, but what if you're a block away and the canal is not immediately visible.

Below is a series of photos I found interesting to showcase my thoughts about the community:

Photo showing the polluted Gowanus Canal with newly constructed condo building "365 Bond Street" on the left, older industrial infrastructure on the right, and downtown Brooklyn in the background.

Image showing Wyckoff Gardens NYCHA housing

Image showing Gowanus' only large park space, which is mostly paved. The neighborhood lacks tree canopy and green space and has been identified as a heat island.

Image showing visible damage still not repaird from Sandy

Sign next to Whole Foods touting it as the greenest supermarket in New York State along with adjacent redevelopment spurred in part by the presence of Whole Foods

View of street with new construction. Buildings are elevated with elevation increasing as the buildings near the canal. This construction may be more resilient than the older typology, but what impact does it have to the existing social fabric?

Typical urban fabric of existing older residential buildings

"Gowanus Smells" fragrance shop showing the communities resilience and sense of humor about its proximity to the polluted canal. This higher end newer type of shop to the area may be trying to use humor to change the impression of the neighborhood by embracing its image in a new way.

Potential asset present in the embedded art and maker community, presence of a social impact design studio

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