On September 21, 2013, the Gowanus Canal Conservancy invited community members and volunteers to help make a difference within the neighborhood through a public art project. The interpretive signage project, which took place on Smith Street around the corner from the Huntington Street Mural, is intended to illuminate the rich history of a significant historic property within the Carroll Gardens neighborhood, and the Gowanus Canal Watershed. The signage speaks to Public Place, which is the former home of the Citizens Manufactured Gas Plant that stopped operating over fifty years ago. The site is undergoing environmental remediation at this time.
The interpretive signage project was sponsored by National Grid, and was designed and installed by Gowanus Canal Conservancy’s volunteers. The GCC also partnered with NY State Department of Environmental Conservation and the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and development for this project, which is intended to provide the community with information about significant environmental actions taking place in the area, and the historical evolution of a major landmark within the neighborhood. By revealing hidden histories, our organization, hopes to enrich the community’s appreciation for the ground beneath their feet, as well as the industries that have preceded them.
Volunteer artists, Gena Wirth, Andrea Parker, Julia Price, and Alexandria Donati worked together to design the interpretive signage, which was divided into 18 panels. The size of the interpretive signage project, in its entirety, is an approximated five feet wide by one-hundred and forty feet long. GCC volunteers helped install the interpretive signage at the public place site along the construction fence bordering Smith Street.
Gena Wirth created the “What Used To Be Here?” section of the interpretive signage. This section informs the members of the community about the history of the canal before industrialization. “What Used To Be Here?” gives information about the Dutch settlements, the Canarsee Native Americans, species of grass that grew within and around the canal, as well as the history of ecological species and the evolution of industrial growth throughout the area.
Andrea Parker created the “What Was Made Here?” portion of the interpretive signage project, which informs the community about the industrial processes that formally occurred at Public Place when it closed the Citizens Manufactured Gas Plant.”What Was Made Here?” also explains coal’s origins, extraction, and transportation, illuminating the complex relationship between Brooklyn and Coal Country.
Julia Price worked on the creation of “What’s Happening Here?”, which informs community members about the proposed site cleanup and remediation technologies that are likely to be employed while cleaning up and restoring the Public Place site.
Alexandria Donati worked on creating the “GCC Vision: What’s Possible?” portion of the interpretive signage project, which discusses the current activities of the GCC and Volunteer program. This section of the interpretive signage project explains project ideas and their effects on the canal post-superfund. These projects include public art installations, historic walking tours, and many community events. This part of the project also explains ecological restoration ideas like: floating gardens, which will provide habitats for fish and crustaceans, filter water and put oxygen back into the canal, as well as draw attention to issues of the urban pollution and the poor water quality of the canal. Other projects include: salt marshes that will support wildlife functions, and help to filter the water while putting oxygen back into the system; shellfish gardens that will create artificial reefs that project the shoreline, filter water, and when large enough can provide juveniles (spat) to other waterways in need. Another innovative ecological restoration idea is green streets, which are gardens or swales that soak up rain water and filter toxins through the soil and the plants that live in them.
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