Saturday, November 25, 2006

Paddling Ye Olde Gowanus

We came upon a superb blog item about paddling on the Gowanus that is quite lengthy and is jammed with information and observations about our favorite body of water. It's an item called "Drifting Through Brooklyn" from Sitebits. We'll excerpt a couple of passages to give a sense of it:
It's lined by crumbling warehouses, generating plants, shadowy factories, Coast Guard fuel depots, and even a Home Depot. It meanders beneath the Gowanus Expressway, one of the busiest highways in New York City, and has been referred to as the most polluted waterway in America. A slick, rainbow film of oil and other chemicals gives the water in the canal a colorful, shimmering candy coating that would be beautiful at sunset if it didn't smell like cold metal and gunpowder and leave a disturbing acrid taste in the air. Visibility in the water is almost zero, and any trip across it is highlighted by an overpowering fear that you might get some on you...

By the end of World War One, the Gowanus Canal was the busiest, and arguably most disgusting, commercial canal in America.

As America's shipping moved from water to highway during the 1960s, the Gowanus Canal and surrounding area suffered a precipitous plunge in prosperity. By the 1970s, over 50% of the previously bustling property in Gowanus was abandoned. Dead-end streets that butt against the canal's concrete embankments became magnets for gangs, drug dealers, muggers, and according to local legend, popular spots for Mafia thugs to dump cumbersome bodies to disappear beneath the impenetrable waters...

"So when the water is clean, then they'll kick everyone out and built fancy places for rich people," is a popular sentiment among neighborhood residents. In a city where revitalization has become synonymous with gentrification, and in a borough that is caught in the middle of battles over redevelopment of multiple neighborhoods that are seeing long-time residents and business moved -- potentially through force of eminent domain -- to make way for luxury condos and stadiums, it's no wonder that some Gowanus locals, who have seen a modicum of peace and order return to their neighborhood, might see the cleaning of the Gowanus Canal as the first wave of development that could push them out of their homes and businesses.
There's a lot more to this excellent article. Absolutely worth a read.


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