Sponge Park

After I made a post about the pollution in Newtown Creek last week, I came across an article from the New York Times that details a proposal to help remediate the pollution in the Gowanus Canal–another EPA Superfund site in Brooklyn.

My view of the Gowanus Canal at Union Street last August
My view of the Gowanus Canal at Union Street last August.

Like Newtown Creek, The Gowanus Canal has a history of industrial pollution and dumping that spans centuries. Although waterborne transportation via the Gowanus has declined significantly in recent years, the biggest threat to the water quality today is combined sewage overflow (CSO). The Gowanus contains 14 CSO points, which, when flooded with stormwater, divert a combination of stormwater and sewage into a public waterway rather than the wastewater treatment plant. Stormwater that flows over the concrete and picks up environmental toxins before directly reaching the canal is another problem. Currently, the contaminated sediment in the Gowanus averages to 10 feet thick and exceeds 20 feet thick in some areas (source).

A diagram explaining how CSO events pollute neighboring bodies of water.

In my previous post, I expressed my frustrations regarding how the present conditions of Newtown Creek are largely neglected by the city because it snakes around industrial areas and poorer neighborhoods. The Gowanus Canal, on the other hand, cuts through well-developed neighborhoods like Carroll Gardens and Park Slope. Along the Canal, one can find a Whole Foods Market, shuffleboard club, and rock climbing gym; neglecting to clean the Canal hurts real estate, and the missed economic opportunity of not developing the area overweighs the tremendous effort it will take to clean it.

One interesting effort to restore water quality in the Gowanus is the proposal for Sponge Park. Designed by the design firm DLANDstudio, Sponge Park is to be an aesthetically pleasing park that utilizes a mixture of engineered soil, native plants, and aquatic organisms to draw and break down environmental toxins out of stormwater before it reaches the CSO points or the canal itself.

A rendering of the proposed Sponge Park.

The park is slated for completion this spring, and I am excited by the precedent it will hopefully set in showing that design and environmental concern can be combined to not only lead to a healthier and cleaner city, but also one that is more livable. It’s sad to think that action is only taken when economics are at stake, but I think projects like Sponge Park are a good first-step in spreading awareness of how taking care of our environment can be in line with larger economic goals.

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