Can Gowanus Survive Its Renaissance?


Getting everything done will be difficult. Doing it while preserving the neighborhood’s patchwork charms — the artist studios and craft-makers, the surviving heavy industry, the hypnotic, sulfur-scented quiet of the canal on a Sunday morning — might be impossible.

“There’s something compelling happening in this place, the mix is interesting and creative and we want to preserve it,” said Brad Lander, the city councilman for most of the canal zone, who led an earlier two-year public planning effort. “That’s never easy in planning and zoning.”

Whatever happens next on the canal, it is a safe bet that many people will hate it. This tradition goes back, at least, to the 1850s, when Gowanus Creek was walled in to create the canal, said Joseph Alexiou, author of the 2015 history “Gowanus: Brooklyn’s Curious Canal.”

“There’s the sense along the canal that the person who moved here discovered it,” he said, “and that their discovery is the truest one.”

The Gowanus has been here before. In 2009, the city proposed a rezoning of a smaller area that was projected to create 3,200 new apartments, setting off a land rush. But the next year, the canal was named a federal Superfund site. The future was thrown into uncertainty, and the city shelved its plan.

Since then, the Superfund cleanup has been mapped out, real estate prices have climbed higher and Mayor Bill de Blasio, who took office in 2014, chose Gowanus as one of several city neighborhoods where developers could build bigger if they created affordable housing.

Meanwhile, any questions about whether people will pay good money to live beside a national disaster area were answered with the June 2016 opening of the first high-rise, 365 Bond Street, a sleek, stepped box where a light-filled two-bedroom rents for $5,400.











The building filled within a year, said its owner, the Lightstone Group. More than 56,000 people applied for the 86 apartments (out of 430) priced affordably, with rents below $900. Another high-rise next door, which features a rooftop pool and “lifestyle concierge,” opened in July.

Those opposed to high-end housing along the canal remain unimpressed. Among them is Linda Mariano, a founder of Friends and Residents of Greater Gowanus. She was recently persuaded to take a stroll along the waterfront walkway, which is open to the public though largely hidden from the street.

“This is not Gowanus,” said Ms. Mariano, a retired art teacher who bought a fixer-upper on President Street in 1974. She brushed past a beach rose in a planter. “This is not the beach,” she said. “We should be retreating from the water, not creating an artificial utopia.”

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