First Bridging Gowanus meeting, December 2013
Councilman Brad Lander at first Bridging Gowanus meeting in December 2013
NYCity proposed rezoning for Gowanus presented to the community in 2008
The December 2013 meeting was hosted jointly with State Senator Velmanette Montgomery, Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez, State Assemblywoman Joan Millman, and Councilmember Steven Levin. To facilitate the conversation about a shared, sustainable vision for the Gowanus, Councilman Lander had hired and paid Pratt Center for Community Development (not to be confused with Pratt Institute) as consultant in charge of running the planning process.
The community came out in force to participate in that first meeting. Subsequent Bridging Gowanus community meetings in March and June 2014 were equally well attended.
Exactly how this final document will be used is questionable. It is doubtful that the community's wishes will make any difference to the De Blasio administration. Bill De Blasio's record as Councilman in our district, which includes Gowanus, is shameful. He supported the spot re-zoning of two large toxic manufacturing lots adjacent to the Gowanus Canal to mixed-use to allow residential development, and then lobbied against the US EPA Superfund clean-up of the heavily polluted Gowanus Canal.
It is interesting to note that 'Bridging Gowanus' is not the first time the community is asked to envision the future of the neighborhood. Back in 2007, Pratt Center helped convene Gowanus Summit, "a coalition of civic, housing and community development, manufacturing, and labor groups to establish ground rules for development around the Gowanus Canal."
The summit "aimed to ensure that new development meets the needs of area residents and sets high standards for local quality of life."
Even more interesting, Brad Lander was the director for Pratt Center for Community Development in 2007.
The report prepared by Pratt in October 2007 for Gowanus Summit called for:
-Affordable housing: at least 30% of apartments in developments of over 30 units should be permanently affordable to families at a wide range of incomes. On the city-owned site of the former gasworks on Smith Street, 60% of new housing should be affordable.
-Space for industrial jobs must be preserved.
-Responsible contractors and operators are essential on all large projects: employers that treat their workers fairly, create good job opportunities for local residents, deliver quality construction products, and operate quality developments, without unnecessary harm to the community.
-Respect for community context: While allowing for new development and additional density in the canal area, rezoning must limit out-of-scale development in residential sections of Carroll Gardens.
-Promote the mix of uses that make Gowanus special by establishing a special district designed to enable artisans and light industry and artisans to flourish.
Improve the infrastructure and environmental quality of the Canal and the surrounding area, including a comprehensive storm water management plan. New construction should be held to high standards of environmental performance and take measures to reduce sewage overflows.
Shortly afterwards, in May 2008, the New York City Department of City Planning released its Gowanus Canal Corridor Draft Zoning Proposal. The agency was ready to push the re-zoning through, though there was much opposition in the community. Most importantly, City Planning obviously had not incorporated much of what Gowanus Summit had called for.
The re-zoning was eventually put on hold after the EPA declared the Gowanus Canal a Superfund.
Which brings us back to the present. "Gowanus Summit" has been renamed "Bridging Gowanus." Pratt Center is earning money a second time to create a nice colorful presentation and interpret what they think the community said, and we have a Councilman who is probably using the process so that he will be able to say that he gave local residents a chance to "have a voice." Once again, the City and the developers long ago decided the future of the Gowanus Community.
Make no mistake. City Planning, this time under Mayor De Blasio, is probably ready to step out with a full fledged Gowanus Plan. It most probably will be the same one shown to the community in 2008, just with different graphics. We will be told that City planning 'listened to the wishes of local residents" and we will know that it's a lie.
As Councilman Lander is asking us to convene one last time for Bridging Gowanus, it behooves all of us to come together and to ask him to put his words into action and to give some power back to the community.
We should all demand a process of validation at the end of Bridging Gowanus. Is the document really a reflection of what the community envisioned at the meetings? We should be able to vote to make sure of that.
Bridging Gowanus could be the beginning of so much. It could be a new forward-thinking, true democratic community planning process. Let's see if Councilman Lander, who prides himself on giving power (and a vote) back to the people through Participatory Budgeting, is courageous enough to give his Gowanus constituents a real voice.