gowanus-canal-untapped-cities-sponge-parkThe park will contain pedestrian walkways along with absorptive plants. Source: dlandstudio

Brooklyn’s notoriously dirty Gowanus Canal is getting a cleaning job–with a sponge. Construction is finally moving forward on a planned $1.5 million sponge park along the canal, part of a city-wide effort to use “green infrastructure” to manage rainwater and redevelop open spaces. Instead of catching storm runoff from the trash-laden canal using expensive pipes and tunnels, the city will use absorptive plants to soak up the toxins–up to 75% of the runoff. The term “Sponge Park” is a registered trademark of architecture firm dlandstudio, who is piloting the project.

Gowanus Canal was constructed in the 19th century on the site of a former salt marsh and creek. Since then, it’s been the dumping ground of runoff, industrial waste and sewage from nearby business and residential neighborhoods. The park was initially proposed in 2008 by the Gowanus Canal Conservancy and architecture firm dlandstudio, but the idea stalled due to lack of funds. It took five years for the project to collect enough city, state and federal grants. In 2010, the EPA gave the canal Superfund status in 2010 and plans to remove over a century’s worth of pollution from the area. City officials against this designation argued that the label would scare off developers. Indeed, Toll Brothers dropped its plan for a $250 million, 3-acre housing project on the banks of the canal.

Nonetheless, the city is still taking its own measures to transform the Gowanus. While the initial plan was to build the park around the entire 1.8-mile canal, Mayor Bloomberg announced on July 31 that a smaller park will be built where the canal meets 2nd Street. In using green infrastructure in the form of special plants, the city could save up to $2.4 billion over the next 20 years. The permeable ground surrounding the canal will soak up and filter toxins in the water’s runoff, minimizing the amount that enters New York Harbor. The plans for the Pilot Sponge Park will also create more formal public space for the neighborhood, like a new sidewalk, benches and viewing area.

Construction will begin next year, and the park is slated to open in summer 2015.

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