Steven Handel, Ph.D. and Director of the Center for Urban Restoration Ecology at Rutgers University gave a dynamic presentation on urban landscape restoration to a packed house at Threes Brewing. Proving case studies of Fresh Kills Park, Jamaica Bay and Brooklyn Bridge Park, Handel highlighted the challenges unique to urban environments such as soil erosion and contamination from pollutants, large amounts of litter, invasive plants that discourage biodiversity and human stressors such as vehicles and nearby commercial businesses.

Jamaica Bay

Jamaica Bay estuary highlighting restoration sites




Brooklyn Bridge Promenade

Promenade at Brooklyn Bridge Park rendering of its restoration that has since been completed










Probing questions were asked by both Handel and the audience such as, would restoring it to its original landscape 100 years ago make sense in today’s climate? What are the key ingredients to a successful restoration? And is there such a thing as over-restoration?  These answers were not simple, given budgetary constraints, environmental stressors and the growing need to address climate change effects.  As shown by Handel’s case studies, partnerships between scientists, city government agencies, landscape designers, environmental nonprofit organizations, and most of all, the local community, can make effective changes for New York City urban spaces and the community members within them.

land stewardship

For more information on restoration ecology, follow Steven Handel on Twitter @snhandel and click the link below to read his article:

Handel – Ecological Restoration Foundations to Designing Habitats in Urban Areas

Click on Eventbrite to come to our next Urban Ecology Lecture on Tuesday, March 24 6:30-8PM where we will explore a hot topic in restoration, Oysters: Limits and Possibilities.  This panel discussion will dive into the role oysters can and do play in marine and coastal shoreline restoration, the challenges and, perhaps most importantly, if they truly live up to their reputation as marine system restorers.

Steven Handel with Gowanus Canal Conservancy staff @ThreesBrewing

Steven Handel with Gowanus Canal Conservancy staff @ThreesBrewing

Follow us on Twitter @GowanusGreen and on Instagram @gowanuscanalconservancy #UELS2015 for more Conservancy news, fun facts, and upcoming events.

The temperature may have been low, but spirits were certainly high! The Conservancy rallied approximately 45 volunteers on Sunday in an effort to support NYC Park’s annual MulchFest event. Mission MulchFest Gowanus was simple: Locate discarded Christmas trees throughout Gowanus as well as neighboring areas and return them to the Salt Lot for chipping. We created five teams, each equipped with transportation and a map of pick-up zones. Trees were collected from Gowanus, Park Slope, Carroll Gardens and Boerum Hill. We were well on our way to reaching our goal of 500 trees by the early afternoon. Volunteers fueled up on warm apple cider and gingerbread before returning to the field. Our mission was complete by 4PM with a total of 642 trees collected and chipped. We could not have done this without our dedicated volunteers and gracious sponsors. Special thanks to Arborpolitan, Urban Arborists, Forth on Fourth Avenue and GreenSpace on Fourth! Stay Mulchin’.

The tree that got the MulchFest party started.

The tree that got the MulchFest party started.

One of our volunteers in the field.

One of our volunteers in the field.

A carload of trees.

A carload of trees.

Collecting trees by any means necessary.

Collecting trees by any means necessary.

Where the magic happened.

Where the magic happened.

On October 9, 2014, the Gowanus Canal Conservancy hosted the first annual Gowanus Design Summit. Watch and share your comments!

Click on the playlist link in the top left corner to watch any of these presentations or panel discussions.

Adrian Benepe – The Trust for Public Land

Phil Silva – Cornell University 
Maggie Scott Greenfield – Bronx River Alliance
Tricia Martin – WeDesign
Andrea Parker – Gowanus Canal Conservancy
Lee Weintraub – Weintraub Diaz

Michael Porto – Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance 
Susannah Drake – dlandstudios
Tom Outerbridge – SIMS Recycling
Stephen Whitehouse – Starr Whitehouse
Gena Wirth – SCAPE

Mary Rowe – The Municipal Art Society for NY

A revitalized industrial corridor. A resilient Sponge Park. A critical piece of a larger harbor-estuary ecosystem. The future of the Gowanus Canal Watershed is all of these. And more.

This multifaceted vision emerged from the keynote speeches, panel presentations and discussions during the Gowanus Canal Conservancy’s first annual Gowanus Design Summit, held Thursday, October 9 at the Brooklyn Lyceum. The goal of the day-long program was to foster dialogue, collaboration and innovation among design-oriented professionals who are invested in our rapidly evolving Gowanus neighborhood. Attendees included representatives from a wide range of architecture/design firms, city agencies, non-profits and community groups.


Adrian Benepe set the Gowanus in the larger context of urban systems in NYC and beyond.

Adrian Benepe, Senior Vice President of the Trust for Public Land, kicked off the program with a keynote titled ‘Rivers, Roads, Rails & Canals,’ which illuminated how current innovations in urban public space planning and ‘recycled landscapes’ could be applied to the canal’s unique ecological and industrial context.

The opportunities for forward-thinking design were echoed by Councilman Brad Lander, whose recent Bridging Gowanus forums brought community stakeholders and residents together to help shape this ‘extraordinary moment’ which has been: “Brought to us in part by the Superfund and the fact that a real clean-up of the canal is on path. Brought to us in part by what a storm surge, what a flood looks like as a result of Sandy and being able to think about the neighborhood’s future. And brought to us in part by the reality of those development pressures and a recognition that we have to get out front and make a real plan for the infrastructure, for the public investments, for the land uses that are needed.”  Full video of the Councilmember’s remarks here.


Phil Silva moderated the first panel.

This set the tone for the first panel, moderated by Philip Silva of Cornell University, which showcased specific projects under development in the Watershed today. The first was Silva’s own TreeKit program, which incorporates mapping and maintenance data to track the health of street trees in Gowanus. On the design front, landscape architect Lee Weintraub provided an overview of the waterfront esplanade for the Lightstone Group’s residential development, which will include an interpretive wetland and planters with tiered ‘stoop’ seating for pedestrians.

GCC Executive Director Andrea Parker spoke next, addressing how public spaces like the esplanade are essential parts of the broader Watershed ‘fabric’ that the Conservancy is stewarding, and the need for community-based guidelines to encourage standards and linkages between them. Linkages were also key to the third panelist, Tricia Martin, whose firm WeDesign is responsible for planning the Brooklyn Greenway, a continuous waterfront bike path bolstered with green infrastructure which will traverse the mouth of the canal between Red Hook and Sunset Park. Maggie Scott Greenfield of the Bronx River Alliance closed the panel by emphasizing that developing a holistic vision– of the different spaces, linkages and uses– is a balancing act that must constantly adjust and adapt.


Tricia Martin presented the Brooklyn Greenway.


Discussion between panelists (l-r) Maggie Scott Brown, Andrea Parker and Lee Weintraub.

After a lunch break sponsored by Whole Foods, participants reconvened for the second panel, which shifted the conversation from ‘spaces’ to ‘systems.’ Leading off was moderator Michael Porto from the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, who provided an overview of their Waterfront Edge Design Guidelines (WEDG) for resiliency and vibrancy in the New York and New Jersey harbor. Landscape architect Susannah Drake picked up the resiliency theme in the next presentation, in which she demonstrated how dlandstudio’s pilot Sponge Park– which will be located at the end of Second Street– can scale out to additional corridors of the Watershed to provide a potent (and beautiful) system for storm water management.

The panel then pivoted to vibrancy, with Stephen Whitehouse of Starr Whitehouse Landscape Architects giving a high-level overview of the Gowanus Brownfield Opportunity Area program, and what it revealed about opportunities for land use, capacity and jobs in the community. An example of this potential was provided by the next speaker, Tom Outerbridge of SIMS Municipal Recycling. His facility is located near the mouth of the canal, and the site was chosen specifically for its access to the waterfront and other transportation infrastructure. In addition to jobs, SIMS is also providing a home for oysters using a ‘fuzzy-rope’ mesh designed by SCAPE studios. Gena Wirth, the final panelist, explained how SCAPE incorporates oyster-tecture, salt marshes and breakwaters into their designs to create habitat and improve coastal resiliency in the harbor.

To close the day, Mary Rowe, Vice President of the Municipal Arts Society, delivered a powerful keynote reminding participants that true resiliency– the resiliency that is required to respond to and rebound from catastrophes like Hurricane Sandy– is a distinctly human endeavor, and that designing and planning can only be successful with input from and investments in the people who live, work and play in the community.


Resident Teresa Book poses a question.


The audience pondered the discussion.

As a facilitator for community dialogue and engagement, the Conservancy sees the Gowanus Design Summit as the beginning of a larger discussion about the ongoing transformation of the Watershed. In the coming months, we will be working with local stakeholders and residents to solicit input and ideas about the future of our neighborhood. Drawing from the presentations and conversations at the Design Summit, some key questions to address include:

- How to balance master planning with decentralization and iteration?

- How to better insure community input/priorities are included in the design/planning process of developers and city agencies?

- How to create consensus among Gowanus’ diverse stakeholders (residential, industrial, developer, etc.)?

- How to incorporate both the ‘friction’ and ‘synergy’ of different land uses into the planning process?

We look forward to input from community members and partners on these issues, and to working together to achieve a Gowanus Canal Watershed that is open, clean and alive.

Watch for full videos of the Design Summit proceedings posted here before the end of the year.

Back in September of 2012, the Conservancy and volunteers installed a garden on 3rd Avenue and 3rd Street. Once a bare patch of dirt is now a vibrant green corridor:

Before and after in September 2012

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As with many right-of-way green spaces, regular maintenance such as trash pick-up, weeding, and watering is necessary for a happy and thriving garden. Plants just need some love!

This past weekend, a stellar group of volunteers braved the rain to install over 50 plants in the bare patches of the garden. Although the plants will go dormant over the winter, Spring 2015 will bring a vibrant new growth of plant life!

Volunteers, including Brooklyn Tech Key Club, installing new plants:

IMG_20141101_113432799 IMG_20141101_113451514IMG_20141101_115951994

The before and after:


IMG_20141031_134743964  IMG_20141101_171407387


Our final volunteer events of 2014 will be on November 15 and November 16. For more information visit our website, or email

On October 28th, the eve of the anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, Congresswoman Nydia M. Velázquez, DEP Commissioner Emily Lloyd, and the Gowanus Canal Conservancy celebrated the 6th Street Green Corridor. Watch the video here!


(l-r) GCC Board Chair Andy Simons, GCC Board Member Stephen Kline, Congresswoman Nydia M. Velázquez and DEP Commissioner Emily Lloyd marked the occasion with a few words.

The 6th Street Green Corridor is a pilot green infrastructure project in the heart of the Gowanus, marking the first of a network of hundreds of bioswales that the DEP will be constructing in our community. We managed the design and construction of this project, working with EDesign Dynamics LLC, Drexel University and Perfetto Contracting Co.  Funding was generously provided by DEP and the EPA, the latter which was secured by Congresswoman Velázquez.  This green infrastructure network will collect stormwater off of adjacent streets, lessening the impact of combined sewer overflows on the health of the Canal.  The curbside gardens will also enliven our streetscapes with trees, native grasses, flowering perennials and pollinators!

As a pioneer project, the 6th Street Green Corridor features several alternative configurations to test for success.  The project will be monitored for several years with state-of-art equipment to measure and record water volumes captured, pollutants removed and ambient temperature effects.  Drexel University and the GCC will be working together to collect and analyze results, which will provide a set of real-world lessons for the coming wave of green infrastructure design and construction.  The GCC is also developing a maintenance training course for citizen bioswale stewards, who will practice techniques on 6th Street. The lessons learned from this pilot project, as well as the community of stewards developed, will contribute to the success of the thousands of bioswales that the DEP will be constructing across New York City.

We ended the joyous occasion with a tour of all 11 bioswales, led by former GCC Executive Director Hans Hesselein.

To get involved with bioswale stewardship, please contact


A small crowd gathered at the bioswales on 6th Street between 3rd and 4th Avenues. (photo credit – Dan Wiley)


An aerial view of 6th Street between 3rd and 4th Avenues shows how bioswales can fit alongside a busy industrial corridor. (photo credit – Gowanus Low Altitude Mapping)


As we tested the hydrologic function of the bioswales on 2nd Avenue, a Monarch butterfly feasted on the nectar of Echinacea purpurea. Bioswales provide many benefits for our urban environments, including stormwater capture and pollinator habitat.

It was a fantastic day that generated energy, enthusiasm, and camaraderie. Over 40 artists came out to capture the Gowanus Landscape on September 27. Local artists joined artists from Manhattan, Queens, New Jersey, Westchester, and Connecticut. Several art collectives were represented including NYC Urban Sketchers, the Gowanus Swim Society, and Oil Painters of America. The herd of sketchers attracted the attention of the community fostering a dialogue about the canal, the Conservancy, and its mission.

Over 100 impressions were created over the 7 hour period. The artists sketched from the vantage point of the Salt Lot, the Whole Food’s promenade, the 2nd street boat dock, and the Carroll street bridge. Some set up easels to oil paint while others sat with sketchbooks using pencil, ink, water color, pastel, iPad,  and camera. Many of these sketches will be included in a slideshow at the GCC Annual Members’ Meeting on November 18th and a small selection will be up for auction at the GCC’s Annual Fundraiser: Anti-Freeze on January 24th.

Be on the lookout for the next Plein Air event!

-Jessica Dalrymple, Artist and GCC Volunteer Coordinator

Photos below courtesy of Keturah Davis.

Artists sketching in our garden at the Salt Lot:


Artists sketch in our garden at the Salt Lot


Featuring the bees:



Lunch was provided by Whole Foods:


Jessica Dalrymple, Volunteer Coordinator and organizer of Plein Air, paints at the Carroll Street Bridge:



This past Saturday, September 27, the GCC in collaboration with Public Lab hosted a Gowanus Low-Altitude Mapping (GLAM) Event.

Using balloon-mapping technology: a camera attached to a string attached to a big helium balloon combined with a lot of creativity and patience, we set out on a beautiful (and if anything a little hot) September day to take some great photos of the Gowanus Canal and the adjacent area.  Using this method, the GCC can obtain low-altitude, high-resolution photographs which would otherwise be unattainable. With these, we can track the health and appearance of the canal, vegetation changes around the canal and overall keep up-to-date documentation of the changes around the canal.

With the help of volunteers and canoes we were able to get some great and useful pictures. We utilized food coloring in order to help track the streams and flows of the canal as well.

Everything ran smoothly and there were no mishaps, the balloon didn’t pop and no canoe overturned, though I must admit to being a little sore even two days after all that rowing!

-Yesmin Vega, Urban Forestry Intern and Volunteer Coordinator

Some of the materials required for balloon aerial mapping over the canal. Not pictured: volunteers, canoes and of course the balloon

Some of the materials required for balloon aerial mapping over the canal. Not pictured: volunteers, canoes and of course the balloon

Picture Perfect: The camera in its creatively made plastic housing, ready for flight

Picture Perfect: The camera in its creatively made plastic housing, ready for flight

The balloon is not to be taken lightly

The balloon is not to be taken lightly

Volunteers mapping the area of the Salt Lot

Volunteers mapping the area of the Salt Lot

The team on the water Source: Jennifer Sta Ines’ Flickr:

The team on the water Source: Jennifer Sta Ines’ Flickr:

Photo shoot in front of Whole Foods! Source: Jennifer Sta Ines’ Flickr:

Photo shoot in front of Whole Foods! Source: Jennifer Sta Ines’ Flickr:

View of the Canal from up above. Source: Eymund Diegel’s Flickr:

View of the Canal from up above. Source: Eymund Diegel’s Flickr:

View of the canal and the freshwater Source: Eymund Diegel’s Flickr:

View of the canal and the freshwater Source: Eymund Diegel’s Flickr:


Folks buzzed around town celebrating NYC Honey Week, which took place September 8-14. To participate in the festivities, we hosted an Urban Ecology Lecture Series along with several Apiary Tours. The lecture was held on Wednesday, September 10 and welcomed approximately 54 guests who listened to Tim O’Neal, an NYC public school biology teacher who maintains and consults on hives throughout the city. With such wisdom comes much enlightenment. We’ve learned that after Hurricane Sandy, our city witnessed an increase in private green spaces such as urban gardens and farmer’s markets; honeybees are integral to our ecosystem as one-third of all crops in the world rely on honeybees as pollinators; and $20 billion dollars are added to our national economy through insect-pollinated crops such as fruits and vegetables.

Shelly Fank also joined Tim in discussing the role of honeybees in our urban communities and food systems, while fielding well-thought questions from the audience. Local harvested honey, Gowanus Gold, was also available for purchase following the event courtesy of Borough Bees, who gave Apiary Tours over the weekend. Kim and Olivia led a tour of 40 around our Gowanus beehives, where they performed a hive inspection, demonstrated how to maintain the hive and displayed honeycombs.

NYC Honey Week was a citywide festival celebrating the beauty that is the honeybee. These events and discussions are important because they bring awareness to the decreasing populations worldwide, which ultimately threatens our food systems.

Tim O'Neal captivating the audience during Q & A.

Tim O’Neal captivating the audience during Q & A.

Beekeepers Kim and Olivia strike a pose with our delicious honey.

Beekeepers Kim and Olivia strike a pose with our delicious honey.

That good ol' "Gowanus Gold" Honey!

That good ol’ “Gowanus Gold” Honey!

Our volunteer beekeepers leading an Apiary Tour.

Our volunteer beekeepers leading an Apiary Tour.


For more information about our upcoming Urban Ecology Lecture Series, please visit our website.

At the September 11 Clean & Green Event, the Rockefeller Foundation employees volunteered for the GCC as part of their Day of Service to the community.  They arrived in the morning at the Salt Lot and after a brief orientation, split up to perform a variety of stewardship activities including composting and garden stewardship.

One group focused on turning over compost piles from bottom to top to help speed up the creation of beautiful nutritious compost.  They also used the sifter to separate larger pieces of wood chips from healthy compost by hand which will be reused for newer compost piles.  This created a wonderful opportunity to share everyones experiences of personal stewardship and how something as simple as composting gives nutrients back to the land.

Turning over compost to increase air circulation and eliminate odors

Turning over compost to increase air circulation


Volunteers separating compost from wood chips using the sifter

Volunteers hard at work separating compost from wood chips using the sifter
















Another set of volunteers focused on garden stewardship by removing trash, weeding and watering the native plants in the bioswales to allow them to flourish for both street beautification and stormwater absorption.  This generated interest in learning about the various ways  local communities are able to actively create vibrant green spaces while reducing the negative effects of water and sewershed on the Canal.

Volunteers picking up trash and uprooting weeds in one of GCCs bioswales

Volunteers removing trash and uprooting weeds in one of GCCs bioswales

One of the volunteers watering native plants

One of the volunteers watering native plants

















After a great day of stewardship the Rockefeller Foundation was treated to a cookout of delicious hot dogs, hamburgers, veggie burgers and refreshments including beer generously provided by our sponsors  Whole Foods Market on 3rd Street and Brooklyn Brewery.  To top off the afternoon they all posed for a group photo, happy and proud to have helped Gowanus become a little greener.  Rockefeller Foundation volunteers, thank you all for your service and hope you all had a wonderful experience!

Group photo to end a great day with the Rockefeller Foundation

Group photo to end a great day with the Rockefeller Foundation



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