The Gowanus Canal was once a thriving hub for New York’s maritime and commercial shipping industries. For years, however, factories dumped toxic waste, polluted runoff, and raw sewage directly into the water. Today, properties along the crumbling walls of the canal are littered with remnant garbage and abandoned structures, too hazardous and expensive to attract new development.
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Like many cities, New York has a combined sewer system. During heavy rainfalls, raw sewage combines with stormwater runoff, overflowing directly into the Gowanus Canal. The contaminated water contains bacteria and toxic chemicals that endanger people and wildlife.
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Even with its highly polluted water and crumbling walls, the Gowanus Canal, as it exists today, still evokes inherent natural beauty. The design for Gowanus Canal Sponge Park™ aims to enhance and showcase this beauty by creating an urban waterfront park along its banks that uses the landscape to clean the water.
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The Sponge Park™ earns its name by incorporating landscape buffers and remediation wetlands that slow, absorb, and filter polluted sewer runoff before it enters the Gowanus Canal. In a process called phytoremediation, specially selected plants metabolize pollutants and heavy metals present in the contaminated water. Dirty water from the combined sewer system is captured in underground storage tanks and slowly released into the landscape.
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Currently, neighborhood streets dead-end into the Gowanus Canal in a scene of asphalt pavement and metal barrier walls. The new design transforms these derelict, uninspiring spaces into street end pocket parks that offer citizens convenient and usable outdoor space with scenic views of the remediation wetlands and restored canal beyond.
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An esplanade, or canal walk, connects the street-end parks and enables people to walk freely up and down the canal. This pedestrian corridor knits together a green fabric of new and existing parks and outdoor public amenities, enhancing livability for the local neighborhoods of Red Hook, Park Slope, and South Brooklyn.
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By creating both active and passive public spaces, the Sponge Park accommodates the interests of all people. Public spaces include community gardens, dog runs, performance spaces, cafes, seating areas, boat launches, and exhibition spaces.
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Immediate access to 7.4 acres of parkland along the canal will raise real estate values in this depressed community and spark new investment in the area. On a larger scale, treating water pollution at the source means that New York City can spend less tax money building expensive, engineered solutions like water treatment plants.
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