On December 9, 2013, over 200 people filled the gym at PS 372 to participate in the first of a series of Bridging Gowanus community planning meetings. The local elected officials who represent Gowanus—including Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, Council Member Brad Lander, Council Member Stephen Levin, State Senator Velmanette Montgomery, and Assemblywoman Joan Millman—welcomed participants and articulated why now is an opportune time to develop a blueprint for the neighborhood’s future.
Planners from the Pratt Center for Community Development presented a synthesis of the major themes they had heard in small group interviews with various sets of local stakeholders. You can download that Presentation PDF (787KB) and a detailed Hand-Out PDF (107KB). This synthesis formed the basis for a preliminary set of shared values about Gowanus and its future. The meeting participants then engaged in small group conversations during which they contributed their ideas about how the values should be edited, amended, and strengthened.
Our 80 meeting attendees also joined one of four Working Groups: Environmental Infrastructure, Social and Cultural Infrastructure, Strengthening the Mix of Uses, and Affordable Housing. The Working Groups will convene in January 2014 and will be charged with developing ideas—drawing on examples from New York City and beyond—that seek to create a safe, vibrant, and sustainable Gowanus.
EMERGING SENSE OF SHARED VALUES
ADDRESS THE SOCIAL, CULTURAL, AND ENVIRONMENTAL INFRASTRUCTURE
All neighborhoods need a broad range of social, cultural, and environmental infrastructure in order to be vibrant and healthy, and Gowanus faces particularly poignant challenges related to the latter. In order to achieve our shared goals for the future of the neighborhood, we need to address these challenges and create strong infrastructure.
Infrastructure needs include:
• Climate/flood protections
• Sewage and flooding issues
• CSOs/water quality
• Being in sync with Superfund
• Street and transit improvements
• Social infrastructure
(as defined in community amenities)
KEEPING A MIX OF USES OF THE AREA
Housing, commercial and retail businesses, arts spaces and a range of manufacturing together define what Gowanus is today, and local stakeholders value this diverse economic base. They feel that this compelling mix of land uses is unique to Gowanus and should be preserved and encouraged. Questions to be addressed through this process are how much of each use there should be in the future, how to accomplish that mix and where each use should go.
Many people spoke of liking the model of a mix of uses within a building: having active, commercial uses on the ground floor – including light industrial businesses – with residential on upper floors. There was widespread contempt for the recent Fourth Avenue rezoning for not activating ground floor street life. A related challenge is that new building code requirements in the flood zones will greatly restrict what can be on the first floor and thus potentially detract from street life.
PRESERVING AND CREATING AFFORDABLE HOUSING
There is much agreement that affordable housing across a wide range of levels of affordability – and preventing continued residential displacement – is needed, but there’s little consensus on how to achieve this (guaranteed Inclusionary Zoning, preserving existing rent-regulated stock, non-profit-led development, etc.)
NEED FOR MORE COMMUNITY AMENITIES
A strong Gowanus community needs a strong public realm. From pre-K slots to schools in general to community centers and parks, there is consensus that the current level of public amenities is insufficient and that future plans must proactively accommodate these needs.
THE CANAL AS A PUBLICLY ACCESSIBLE, OPEN BODY OF WATER
While much needs to be done to enhance the canal and its surroundings, most people think that the canal should be kept and enhanced as an open public amenity such as a park along the its edge. Relatedly, the canal’s water quality needs vast improvement. In the pursuit of these improvements, the effect of these changes on surrounding uses must be taken into account and potentially mitigated. An aspect of this accessibility includes the attention to the visual corridors from the neighborhood to the canal and from the canal to the neighborhood.
THRIVING LOCAL BUSINESSES SHOULD REMAIN AND EXPAND
Generally speaking, the recent influx of new businesses that have joined the existing base of local businesses is a positive force that should continue. Strong community support for manufacturing firms (especially those that meet emissions standards), freelancers and artists was expressed, while there was relative ambivalence toward nightlife and retail businesses. Stakeholders expressed strong opposition towards big box retail stores.
PRESERVING ICONIC HISTORIC BUILDINGS
Regardless of the direction of future development, there are several noteworthy (historically, aesthetically, or otherwise) buildings that should be preserved.