Gowanus, Brooklyn: From Resilience to Sustainability (Congress for the New Urbanism Illinois Charter Award 2016)

Gowanus Resilience to Sustainability CNU 2016 Entry
Regulating Plan. Gowanus Resilience to Sustainability CNU Charter Award entry. 2016.            Click on image.

Brooklyn’s Gowanus, a neighborhood between Park Slope, Boerum Hill, Carroll Gardens, and Red Hook lies on the east and west sides of the Canal, a two-hundred year old industrial water resource including shipping access from New York Upper Bay.  Bridging the high ground of Brooklyn Heights and the Red Hook peninsula to the Prospect Park hill, are two massive infrastructures, the US Interstate 278/478 Highway flyover and an elevated Metropolitan Transportation Authority rail line.

The principal streets, with strongest connections to greater Brooklyn and New York, run north-south: Smith Street and Fourth Avenue.  Four streets bridge the Canal: Union, Carroll, 3rd and 9th Streets.  East-west connectivity is achieved by Union and 9th Streets.  The block, where uninterrupted by the Canal, measures 660 feet east-west and 200 feet, north-south.

There are four MTA transit stations: the F and G lines serve Carroll/Smith and 9th/Smith; the D, N and R lines serve Union/Fourth; and the 9th/Fourth is served by all five of these lines. The D, F, N and R lines run from Manhattan to southern Brooklyn, the G line runs from eastern Queens to southern Brooklyn.

The Canal features five easterly basins; one, at its midpoint, shapes the potential for a terminating view south from the head of the Canal.

Chiefly, the existing building stock comprises three basic types.  First, there are the single-family and multi-flat row houses with raised first floors, and, on the commercial north-south streets, row houses with shops at the street level.   Second, there are pre-War industrial buildings with number of floors and size of floor plates is unobtrusive: some have raised floors for truck docks and others are at grade.  Third, there are the sprawling post-War, single-story open plans for storage and manufacture.

Bridging Gowanus, a neighborhood advocacy organization, anticipates the current residential development pressure will be turned to Gowanus as the Canal begins to be cleaned as an Environmental Protection Agency Superfund site. Priorities include: “A sustainable, resilient, environmentally healthy community;” “Invest in our parks, schools, transit, and waterfront;” “Strengthen the manufacturing sector and create good jobs;” “Keep Gowanus creative and mixed-use;” “Preserve and create affordable housing for an inclusive community;” and “Secure a pathway for responsible growth.”  Significant, too, is Gowanus’s inclusion in the Industrial Business Zone intended to protect local industrial and manufacturing jobs.  The studio accepted the Bridging Gowanus Priorities and have undertaken to investigate the urban and architectural potential.

The urban intervention gives vision to the Priorities especially to the social justice inhering in mid-rise types providing ample housing across the range of incomes.  Our ambition here, more than a formal, theoretical exploration, has been to answer the real social interests in local jobs and education, and a protected, appealing natural and built environment.  We are applying the full range of urban metrics: permeability, variety, legibility, robustness, visual appropriateness, and richness (Bentley et al, 1985).

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