Gowanus as a National Historic Landmark?

Grand Central Terminal. The Brooklyn Bridge. The Woolworth Building. The Gowanus Canal. Which of these does not belong? Yep, that’s right, it’s the Brooklyn Bridge. No, just kidding, it’s actually the Gowanus Canal, the only one that hasn’t been named a National Historic Landmarkyet. The Gowanus Canal Conservancy is currently spearheading a drive to get the canal named a national historic landmark district, a designation that could be a “useful tool” in terms of getting funding for the canal’s cleanup, according to Bob Zuckerman, the GCC’s executive director. “Right smack in the middle of brownstone Brooklyn, the canal has a history all its own,” says Zuckerman, noting that the transformation of the Gowanus from a series of creeks to its role in aiding industry make the waterway historically significant. Zuckerman says there’s precedent for a canal being designated a national historic landmark district: The Erie and Ohio Canal is one, for example. The proposed district will include the canal, the Gowanus pumping station and flushing tunnel, the Carroll Street Bridge (which is already a city landmark), as well as five buildings along the Gowanus. A Pratt student and former GCC intern is now preparing a report about the hoped-for landmark status, and Zuckerman says the conservancy will begin making moves to get the district recognized in the coming months.

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  • This peculiar obsession with the Gowanus Canal is yet another window into the psyche of the modern preservationists.

    It’s been clear for some time aesthetic concerns are rarely the guiding principal. If aesthetics were truly the motivation of these many modern protesters, we would have organizations dedicated to furthering aesthetic standards on some level (e.g. the City Beautiful movement of the turn of the 20th century). We might even have ones that advocate aesthetic standards of construction.

    Instead however, we only get folks who focus exclusively on historical preservation and density context. Focusing on density makes sense for people who strongly desire keeping people out of their neighborhood. Historical preservation however has taken on a life of its own. Rather than preserve the best examples of the past to provide a standard for the future, the protester culture has taken over.

    There is a large political subculture in New York City that strongly desires the means to identify itself with some cause, ie something that to which they are opposed. Since the dawn of modern protester culture in the 1960s, the classic ethnocentric causes are fully saturated. Even the modern battle cry for enforced “diversity” has become tired in this city.

    So, what is the do-gooder liberal college student to do? Find something – ANYTHING – to prove his worth.

    In the case of Mr. Zuckerman, it’s saving a man-made creek that is an environmental disaster.

    The whole point of history is to serve as a guide to learn from the mistakes and successes of our ancestors. Clearly, the state of art in this world since post-modernism infected our intellectual elites has greatly hindered our culture and civilization. I applaud all efforts to return to the great standards of beauty of the past – but this makes no sense. The Gowanus Canal, and the entire industrial district of this area is a warning as to how not to develop a city. It is a mistake which has tarnished Brooklyn for over a half century.

    There is no historical value in this canal, and its existence need not be perpetuated to warn future generations about the danger of environmentally destructive public policy.

  • Spare us all please. Will we have preserve the smell? What will that cost the taxayer?

  • All this attention on the canal is a “green light” for future investment speculation. I think this will definitely take off next boom – say twenty years from now.

  • Cover it in with concrete and dirt, re-route the sewers and treatment plant. Build a park, housing, whatever. This would surely cost a fraction of the cost to clean up the site and “Preserve it”

  • I agree with 10:55, only because there is no political will to fund capital projects necessary to maintain and/or build this city’s infrastructure. I.e., will the 2d Avenue subway ever be completed? Perhaps, when bridges start collapsing, as it did in Minneapolis/St. Paul, will they consider investing in our infrastructure, instead of constructing more stadiums or luxury condos.

  • Heh…I remember when the “water” would actually catch on fire from time to time.

    (Maybe if it does go NHL then they’ll have to weld shut the damn Hamilton Avenue drawbridge that only goes up during rush hour or when I’m late for an important meeting in the city.)

  • Tempest in a teapot, part 1,000 of 34,567

  • Polemicist: Any measure that brings funds for cleanup of the canal and surrounding area is a good thing. It doesn’t matter if you think the canal is a blight on the Brooklyn landscape – it exists and needs to cleaned, not saved. There is a TON of historical value to the canal, from the development of America’s industrial infrastructure to, as you say, lessons on how NOT to build on tidal wetlands. Your “rearview mirror” look at the development of New York industry does not reflect well on your knowledge of history or today’s realities.

  • In a city so replete with waterfronts, much of which is wasted or ignored (example the huge windowless IKEA being built at water’s edge)it seems wrong-headed to obsess over the man-made industrial canal which has been ill-maintained and polluted for generations and which requires an electric underwater fan to prevent it from turning into a fetid
    cesspool. A fan that unfortunately was not working for about fifty years, and now is not working again. Preservationists do not care about aesthetics any more than say, archaelogists. They care about ideology. The historic preservation movement practiced by the most elite today has lost touch with the grass roots and has become almost exclusively a Caucasian-academic clicque.
    Preserving the Goawanus is absurd. Planners whould be figuring out ways to reclaim that land for parkland, which is much needed.
    We no longer need an industrial canal, as a result the funds necessary to maintain it will always be scarce. We need a progressive thinker to take on this sacred cow and make something better for the betterment of the people of Brooklyn and not just for the archaeologists or preservationists.

  • I can see your point – to a point. This land is a natural tidal wetland. Ground water exists just a couple of feet below the surface. However, reclaiming it for parkland will be very expensive and will require cleanup (which needs to be paid for). To my earlier point about reality, New York City, State, and the Federal government are not going to spend the money to buy this privately owned land, fill in the canal, and build parks. We have a housing deficit of hundreds of thousands of units. Redevelopable land will be built on.

  • if you fill it in where will all the turd from the stadium go?

  • Turning it into parkland with water features will be very expensive and preserving it as a canal will be what? cheap?

  • Was Love Canal landmarked?

    Any body of water that has STDs floating in it is not going to generate a healthy environment for any type of life.

    There is nothing natural about the Gowanus Canal, at least not in the last 175 years.

  • yuk how am suppose to buy fish from whole foods?

  • The City is not good at these sorts of public projects. There never seems to be any money in the budget except to pay all the bureaucrats who are supposed to be doing something if there was any money to do it.
    Whether this remains a man-made creek or is converted into some kind of park, it will need a lot of abatement and decontamination. I’m not optimistic that the government will, or even could, do anything here. They always get caught up in their own restrictions and procedures like a kitten in yarn. The government will do nothing. Developers need to come up with a plan and back the next mayor so that he/she will back the private initiative.

  • Come on people at least learn what you are talking about. No history, man made canal, all false ideas.

    The canal is natural, and was enhanced by man, the history is long and extensive, enabling the transportation of brownstone and other supplies for the building of the historic districts of Cobble Hill, Park Slope, and Carrol Gardens.


    I can sit here and complain my self about the hideousness’s of some of your neighborhoods of Greenpoint and Williamsburg and the vinyl siding there just as easy as anyone else. But I don’t share my invalid opinions on you and please don’t do so on our neighborhood. So please keep them to yourself.

    So how can you tell a landowner and neighborhood resident that this is not a good idea? You can’t? We applaud these local’s for doing there part to better our community.

    Your just jealous you can’t live here 😉

    This is what we will look like after the city is going to do after they get done with public place.

    Happy you see, unlike all these angry posters.

  • Hmmmm, Gowanus as a resource of EXCEPTIONAL importance? Why not just get it on the National Register of Historic Places and call it day? NHL status doesn’t bestow any more protections than NR status (and both are mostly honorific designations anyway).

    Now, has anyone contacted HAER about the canal?


  • 2:31… The Canal was man-made. Get your facts straight and quit breathing in all the benzene, tuolene and PCB’s.

  • Restoration here means only one thing.
    Bringing the area back to natural wetlands.
    Now that would be an awesome and welcome project.

  • Prediction – 30 years from now – Canal will still be disgusting; flushing tunnel still wont be working; whole foods will still not have opened and Canal will still only be “landmarked ” as a superfund cleanup site.

  • I’ll take “Will Never Happen” for $600, Alex.

  • Last month the City of NY gave Ratner 300 million MORE for his project that doesn’t look like it will ever contribute tax money back to the community at large. If you add all together, Ratner’s project is costing us a lot of public money, and for what? So that we can have public recreation watching ball games for a portion of each year?

    Now imagine what kind of public recreation many, many, more people might enjoy if we were to spent an equal amount of public funds cleaning up the Gowanus! Imagin the tax base that would develope around such public recreation here in the Carroll Garden’s area?

    Seems to me the most fullish notion, comes form those who believe that building housing along the water’s edge will leed to a place that will ever be “pleasent”, let alone clean!

  • National register status does not landmark the canal, freezing the landscape in time. Nor does it guarantee that it will be preserved AS IS. It’s a useful tool to allow funding for rehabilitation projects on the canal or alongside it. I think it’s a great idea! What’s not to like?

  • With National Registry status, anyone (maybe even Whole Foods) who restord and reused the old Power House building off 3rd Ave and 2nd Street would get federial financial help in the restoration work. Seems like a good deal!