100 years later, the Gowanus Still Smells
The original Gowanus Canal Celebration to observe the opening of the Flushing Canal was an elaborate affair back in June 21, 1911. Then mayor Mayor Gaynor attended with other dignitaries, speeches were made, businesses along the canal were decorated for the occasion and invited guests went down the canal in adorned vessels. There was also a parade and a young 9-year-old girl was crowned "Miss Gowanus."
That day, the new flushing Tunnel was ceremoniously put into action to "clean the dirty and the malodorous canal" by pumping fresh water from Buttermilk Channel into the industrial waterway.
One hundred years to the day later, a much smaller crowd took part in the Gowanus Canal Flushing Tunnel Centennial Celebration, but spirits were equally high as participants paraded from the flushing tunnel at Butler Street between Bond and Nevins, to the Union Street Bridge. This time, there was not one, but a few Miss Gowanus' on hand, including Linda Mariano, one of the founding members of Friends And Residents Of Greater Gowanus (FROGG). And as in the past, white lilies, symbols of purity, were thrown into the murky waters of the waterway with the hope that soon, the canal would be cleaner.
Ironically, the Gowanus was particularly malodorous on Tuesday night, and quite a few parade participants had to hold their nose while standing on the bridge.
The event's organizer, Angela Kramer Murphy of Proteus Gowanus pointed out the parallels between what happened a 100 years ago and today. "Back then, the Gowanus Canal smelled. The Gowanus still smells. Back then, people were debating about what to do about the Gowanus Canal" she said. "You could say that its kind of depressing that we are gathered here today to celebrate the anniversary of something and the Gowanus Canal still stinks, you could say that its a sign that no progress has been made. I like to look on the bright side and think that it's a great thing that I have so many people here to celebrate the 100th anniversary of a giant plumbing device."
The New York City Department Of Environmental Protection is currently updating the Gowanus Canal facilities, including the flushing tunnel and the pumping station. However, by the agency's own admission, the project will only reduce the Combined Sewer Overflow (CSOs), the major source of the foul odor, by 34 %.
Not good enough...and we, as a community, should demand that the city stop using the canal as an open sewer. Otherwise, we will still be holding our noses at the bicentennial celebration.