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New York City, Brooklyn, Gowanus Canal, Smith Street
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This group is pushing for a new public park on the Gowanus Canal

They're petitioning City Hall to turn 5.8 acres of toxic wasteland into a green space—and you can help!

Written by
Howard Halle

For decades, the neighborhood surrounding the Gowanus Canal managed to resist gentrification due to the waterway's epic toxicity. But in recent years, all of that changed as Gowanus's gritty appeal brought in the usual restaurants, bars and other signifiers of first-wave, hipster settlement, followed by the inevitable later arrival of luxury condos.

That trend has accelerated with the designation of the area as a Federal superfund cleanup site, though the remediation effort has been slow. Still, it's only a matter of time before Gowanus becomes as fully redeveloped as other neighborhoods in the area. Unsurprisingly, then, there's now a debate over what future direction to take.

Enter Gowanus Lands, a "community-led proposal to create a natural parkland for public use in the heart of Gowanus." Started by neighborhood residents Corey Smith and Mac Thayer, Gowanus Lands is calling on City Hall to create a park on a vacant, city-owned lot along Smith Street between Huntington and 5th Streets.

It's a familiar sight to anyone who's taken the G or F over the Culvert viaduct: A barren stretch of industrial wasteland, which locals call Public Place. It was also the location of the defunct Citizens Gas Light Company's 12th Ward Gas Work Plant, which turned coal into the gas piped to businesses, factories and homes for heating, lighting and cooking. In operation from the 1860s and the 1960s, the plant left behind a century of hazardous waste, making it the most polluted spot in Gowanus—which is saying a lot.

As of now, the 5.8-acre property is slated for a project called Gowanus Green, a mixed use development of nearly 1000 apartments that will include retail and a school. However, Gowanus Lands believes that if "enough people say they want a park, City Hall will listen!" The group has posted on online petition to that effect, so if you want to add your name, you can do it here.

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