For one day, we brought the Gowanus Canal to the middle of Park Slope.  On Saturday, May 21, GCC held the second annual EXPO Gowanus, a free, outdoor event where 350 community members learned in depth about problems facing the Gowanus Canal and how everyone can help to improve water quality and access to waterfront public space.


We were happy to see and talk to hundreds of Park Slope residents at EXPO Gowanus. The upland neighborhoods of Park Slope, Carroll Gardens and Prospect Heights all make up the Gowanus Watershed. Each year about 377 million gallons of polluted water end up in the Canal from street runoff and raw sewage from 120,000 Watershed residents when the combined sewer system overflows during rain storms. Pollutants from Combined Sewage Overflow (CSOs) hurt water quality and biodiversity and continue to be a nuisance to the neighborhood.


At EXPO Gowanus, visitors learned in depth about why CSOs are a problem and the many ways we can all help reduce the volume of polluted water that enters the Canal every year.

Visitors of all ages flowed through 20 interactive stations and activities exploring the Gowanus Canal, Edge and Watershed.  Each station highlighted exciting projects that are underway by volunteers, designers, schools, organizations and public agencies.


The newest generation of Gowanus student scientists reported on their investigations into Canal water and soil quality and proposed their ideas for a cleaner Canal and waterfront, which included impressive physical models of proposed green infrastructure and public space.


Our bioswale volunteers-in-training explained how public dollars are being invested in NYC Green Infrastructure, including thousands of bioswales across the city that will mitigate sewage overflow in the Gowanus Canal and other polluted waterbodies.


Visitors collaged waterfront designs for Gowanus Greenscape, an emerging master plan for parks and public spaces that will center on the Canal.


Additionally GCC led volunteers from National Grid and neighbors who deployed across the adjacent Washington Park and weeded, mulched and re-planted several areas in need of stewardship.

Don’t miss next year’s EXPO!

2016 Exhibitors: ArtBuilt; ArtLab Gowanus; Balmori Associates; Climate Urban Systems Partnership (CUSP); Decades Out; dlandstudio; Gowanus Canal Community Advisory Group (CAG); Gowanus Creek Scene Investigation (CSI); GrowNYC; the Open Sewer Atlas; NYC Parks; NYC City Councilmember Brad Lander Participatory Budgeting Committee; NYC Department of Sanitation; Parsons Architecture Department; POOP Project; thread collective; and local schools: PS 32; MS 51; MS 88; MS 839 and Brooklyn Urban Garden School (BUGS);. See the full EXPO program here.

EXPO Gowanus 2016 was developed in partnership with Old Stone House and MS 51 and sponsored by AECOM, National Grid and Con Edison.

Screen Shot 2016-06-02 at 3.11.02 PM

Notice anything different on the Whole Foods esplanade lately? This past Saturday, volunteers constructed ArtLab Gowanus, to host monthly site-specific art workshops, taught by local artists, right along the banks of the Canal. The best part? All workshops are free and open to the public.

IMG_20160425_103741In 2015, we responded to a Call for Public Art “to showcase what makes Gowanus ‘Gowanus’: the history, the Canal, the culture of creativity and the diversity of the community.”  Our winning proposal reveals the creative process integral to Gowanus.  The Gowanus neighborhood is home to hundreds of artists, craftspeople, and fabricators “making” things behind walls. ArtLab Gowanus asserts that this “making” is critical to the character of the Gowanus, and needs to be integrated into public space on the evolving waterfront.

The structure was designed by a crack team of GCC Volunteer Coordinators – Wendy Andringa, Greta Ruedisueli, Joy Wang and Leah Wener. The designers developed the structure as a pentagon to best fit on the esplanade without impeding walkability. The “lab” is a steel-framed pop-up structure that provides flexible workspace for groups and individuals. There are built-in work surfaces, as well as storage for smaller drawing boards that participants can borrow for use in the nearby bench seating or around the neighborhood.  Sedums will inhabit a green roof, capturing and retaining rainwater before it makes its way into the canal; the floor will additionally feature a watershed mural.

Arts Lab_Pentagon_20160316The steel structure and floor were constructed offsite at a studio in Red Hook. GCC Volunteer Coordinators and Staff, led by Jason Mortara, worked with David Aronson, putting in many tireless hours and long nights to make sure the structure was completed for the install. Being a pentagon, the structure provided many unexpected challenges and left turns, but our crew was able to solve all issues and persevere through their weary eyes and hunger pains.

Lo and behold, come the morning of Saturday, April 23, the structure was complete and ready to be shipped out to the Whole Foods esplanade.  Volunteers reassembled the structure, and installed the floor.  We will be installing the green roof and painting a mural on the floor in the coming weeks.
GCC volunteer coordinator and local artist Jessica Dalrymple has curated a stellar season of workshops responding our unique site. Again, all are FREE and open to the public – see full list below. Please RSVP for workshops you would like to attend a few weeks before the event (unless otherwise noted).ArtLab Workshop Schedule_160426
None of this could have been made possible without our partnership with Arts Gowanus, the Old Stone House & Washington Park, and a generous grant by council member Brad Lander. And of course, all the hard work and dedication by our volunteers. We thank you!

We hope to see you at ArtLab soon.🙂

After two months of investigating, researching and reporting, 8th grade students from Brooklyn School for Collaborative Studies wrote investigative news articles about the Gowanus Canal. Each student chose their own angle and investigation to focus on. Here is one of our favorites about coal tar contamination in the Canal. 
Coal tar has been polluting the canal since the 1800’s and will be dredged out of the Canal during the Superfund clean-up process. For more about the clean up, see Gowanus Superfund.

Coal Tar In The Gowanus Canal

By: Maryory Martinez

New Tourist Attraction?

Niagara Falls, the Statue Of Liberty, Yellowstone National Park, and now the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn? There has been a new addition to the list of grand tourist attractions in the United States. A very peculiar one. Unlike other tourist attractions, the Gowanus Canal isn’t gaining publicity and tourists because of its “beauty” or its “history.” The Gowanus Canal isn’t beautiful and that’s exactly what’s luring people there. The foul smell. The filthy green water. The disgusting coal tar hidden in the depths of that water. That is luring people there. But people seem to ignore the obvious problem that the canal is facing. Coal tar is still in the canal and continues contaminate the water and the environment around it.

Severely Polluted Water

Since the late 1800s, factories and waste treatment plants would get rid of their wastes in the Gowanus Canal (Clean Water Act of 1972). Slowly, this resulted in the accumulation of coal tar on the canal’s floor, severely polluting the water. Coal tar is a thick, black liquid produced by the refining of coal that carries hazardous chemicals such as benzene, anthracene, and phenol ( This makes the canal unsafe for recreational activities such as swimming and fishing or simply being too close to the water. “What lives in the Gowanus is the most toxic bath of chemicals you can imagine,” said Dr. Robert Glatter of Lenox Hill Hospital.

What Now?

Finally, after years of protests and complaints, the Government declared the Gowanus Canal a “Superfund” site. A Superfund site is any land in the United States that has been polluted by hazardous waste and has drawn the attention of the Environmental Protection Agency. That makes it a candidate for cleanup because it poses a risk to human health and/or the environment (United States National Library of Medicine). According to a decision made by the Federal Government in 2010, the entire canal will be clean from coal tar by 2022. This decision was a huge step in the right direction.

Want to teach students about the Gowanus Canal through field studies and hands-on projects? See our STEM Gowanus Urban Ecology Curriculum for middle schools. 

On May 19 6:30-8PM, our Living Things in an Urban Ecosystem series ended on a high note with Beyond the Honeybee: Exploring Critical Pollinators where we explored the role pollinators play in urban ecosystems and the ways in which individuals and community groups can support their habitats.

Ecologist Howard Ginsberg, Ph.D. from United States Geological Survey first presented a brief survey of native and non-native bee species typically found in NYC.  He found that our city has approximately 50 different species of bumble bees, compared to 100 found in more natural environments which is great news for our urban ecosystem. One fun fact is that bees tend to pollinate on specific seasons because they favor flowers in bloom during that time.  One example is Halictus ligatus, a communal or non-territorial summer bumblebee whose nests are typically found in holes in the ground and their workers are daughters of the queen, unlike honeybees whose workers are typically male.

Summer bee

Halictus ligatus – Summer bee

Our second panelist Tina Harrison, Ph.D. candidate from Rutger’s University Department of Ecology, presented some key ways to support our pollinators here in NYC.

Pesticides used in gardens

Chlorantranilliprole kills less worker bumble bees in a 2013 study

Gardeners and horticulturists should be mindful of the primary chemical used in the pesticide. For example, a study by Larson, Redmond and Potter showed that pesticides containing chlorantraniliprole kills only a small amount of worker bees, especially compared to clothianidin. So be sure to read those labels!

Effects of pesticides on bumble bee populations

Effects of pesticides on bumble bee populations

And finally, biologist Sam Droege, also from USGS, focused his presentation on the challenges of studying bumble bee populations.  He not only highlighted his work on cataloguing bee species (view the beautiful photography here), he spoke on the challenges scientists face when studying bees. One fascinating example was the attempt to study the Bombus bimaculatus, a bee species that, in natural settings, kicks out and takes over nests built by chickadee birds.  After scientists recreated these nests to attract this bee species, they were unable to replicate this occurrence in a controlled setting. Clearly there is more to be studied on attractive bee habitats, which, once successful, would lead to more effective methods of attracting and keeping them within our city.


We then segued into the panel discussion, moderated by landscape architect Hans Hesselein, where we were truly able to unpack the issue of bee colony collapse (which actually does not effect bumblebees), action steps we can take to support their survival, and the potential for future on bee habitats studies .  Listen here for the entire discussion.

We at the Gowanus Canal Conservancy send our heartfelt thanks to our venue sponsor Threes Brewing for generously offering their event space, our panelists, volunteer coordinators and most of all our audience for being part of such a vibrant season.  Stay tuned for the fall schedule!

Join us on our next Clean & Green July 18 11AM-3PM by signing up at where volunteers will participate in the Tree Census and other stewardship activities.

Follow us on Twitter at @GowanusGreen and on Instagram @gowanuscanalconservancy for GCC news, volunteer events and trivia.

Native and Not Panel pic

Left to right – Katerli Bounds, Uli Lorimer, Kristy King, Leila Mougoui Bakhtiari


On April 28 6:30-8PM, we had our third panel discussion on Native and Not: NYC’s Dynamic Flora as part of our spring theme Living Things in an Urban Environment, where panelists from NYC Parks and Brooklyn Botanic Garden discussed the state of native flora, invasive species management and what we as a community can do to increase floral biodiversity.

Uli Lorimer, Curator of Native Flora from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, brought us beautiful photos alongside sobering news about the declining trend of urban flora in our region.


Native Flora – Arethusa bulbosa


NY Metropolitan Flora Project Native Flora Survey Results


Kristy King, Director of Forest Restoration of NYC Parks, revealed the surprising number of urban forests, salt marshes and other natural landscapes in NYC while revealing NYC Parks goals for forest restoration.

NYC Parks Goals for Forest Restoration

NYC Parks Goals for Forest Restoration

NYC's Surprising Amount of  Natural Areas

NYC’s Surprising Amount of Natural Areas


And Katerli Bounds, Director of Stewardship of NYC Parks, presented us with fantastic ways the NYC community can get involved in stewardship activities through both NYC Parks and the Gowanus Canal Conservancy.  A great upcoming project being TreesCount! 2015 where NYC Parks enlists the help of the NYC community to map and catalogue every tree in NYC.


Trees Count! 2015


Stewardship Opportunities in Forestry, Salt Marshes, Fresh Water Wetland and Bioswales


Then Leila Mougoui Bakhtiari, our very own volunteer coordinator of the Gowanus Canal Conservancy’s Urban Forestry program moderated the discussion, bringing up fascinating questions such as:

At what point is a plant species considered to be invasive?

Can invasive species be used to our benefit?

And what are everyones thoughts on the controversial book Wild Urban Plants by Peter Del Tredici?

To listen to the entire panel discussion click here for our audio player.

The evening ended with the quote “if you build it, they will come”, a great segue into our next panel where we delve into urban pollinators. Join us on May 19 6:30-8PM at Threes Brewing for Beyond the Honeybee: Exploring Critical Pollinators where we expand our idea of pollinators, why they are particularly important in an urban setting and action steps the NYC community can take to support their survival.  We will be joined by Sam Droege, head of the bee inventory and monitoring program at the US Geological Survey (click here to see his beautiful bee species photographs), Howard Ginsberg, entomologist for USGS who studies the impact of invertebrates on natural systems and Tina Harrison, Ph.D. candidate for ecology at Rutgers University who is studying the impact on bee genetic diversity in disturbed sites compared to undisturbed sites. Click here to RSVP.

Follow us on Twitter at @GowanusGreen and on Instagram @gowanuscanalconservancy for GCC news, volunteer events and trivia.

On March 24 6:30PM we kicked off the second lecture of our 4-part Urban Ecology Lecture Series series where we continue to unpack the theme Living Things in an Urban Environment, with our first panel discussion, Oysters: Limits and Possibilities.

Our panelists included, Chester Zarnoch, Assistant Professor of Environmental Science at Baruch College presented his current research on the potential effects of oyster reef restoration on nitrogen cycling, an overabundant nutrient that impacts water quality, and its implications on our waterway systems.

Assistant Professor of Environmental Science at Baruch College, C.U.N.Y.

Assistant Professor of Environmental Science at Baruch College, C.U.N.Y.

Marit Larson, Director of Wetland and Riparian Restoration of NYC Parks, spoke on salt marsh and shoreline restoration projects where she highlighted, the Oyster Reef Restoration Program , a partnership with NY-NJ Baykeepers to install oyster reefs and stocks as an oyster larvae attachment source.

Director of Wetland and Riparian Restoration at NYC Parks

Director of Wetland and Riparian Restoration at NYC Parks

Pete Malinowski, Director of the Billion Oyster Project, presented the mission of Billion Oyster Project, their partnership with the New York Harbor School, and the impact made not only on water quality but on the hundreds of thousands of student volunteers who otherwise would not have been exposed to our waterways, potential career opportunities and most of all the ecology of New York Harbor.

Director of Billion Oyster Project

Director of Billion Oyster Project

The panel discussion, moderated by Gena Wirth, our very own GCC Volunteer Coordinator and landscape designer, urban planner and horticulturalist at SCAPE Landscape Architecture.

Landscape architect, horticulturist and volunteer coordinator of the Gowanus Canal Conservancy

Moderator for the Oyster: Limits and Possibilities panel discussion

By opening the discussion on how the history of oysters in NYC influenced the panelists, each touched on the pride of being a native or transplant New Yorker, the desire to reach its ecological potential and the need to create healthier spaces for our community, a theme carried throughout the entire evening. Click here to listen.

It was a dynamic, thought-provoking evening, beers and all and we could not have done it without our venue sponsor Threes Brewing who generously provides their event space for our lectures.

If you are now all fired up about all things ecology and want to put your passion into action, here is a list of resources to help you get started as a volunteer:

Continue the conversation and join us on:

April 28, 6:30-8PM for Native and Not: NYC’s Dynamic Flora, a conversation moderated by Leila Mougoui Bakhtiari of NYC Parks. We will unravel native and invasive urban plants, stewardship practices, and their ecological implications.

May 18, 6:30-8PM for Beyond the Honeybee: Exploring Critical Pollinators, a conversation moderated by Hans Hesselein of Apiary Studio.  We will discover the critical role insects play in urban ecology and the ways we can support their survival.

Follow us on Twitter at @GowanusGreen and on Instagram @gowanuscanalconservancy for GCC news, volunteer events and trivia.

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.