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Cleanup Begins in NYC’s Most Polluted Waterway

(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal, one of the most polluted waterways in the U.S., became a federally-designated superfund site in 2010, meaning, as the Architect’s Newspaper puts it, that for seven years it’s been identified as “a significant hazard to people, animals, plants, and everything alive — in short, an environmental and public health disaster just a rainy day away from cross-contamination.”

Now, a long-anticipated cleanup has finally begun. Preliminary dredging began the first week of October, and the full project is anticipated to cost around $500 million, the Architect’s Newspaper reports.

As Next City covered in June, the Gowanus Canal Conservancy has partnered with landscape architecture firm Scape to develop a vision for the waterway. (Kate Orff, founder of Scape, was recently awarded a MacArthur Genius grant). The company’s proposal, released in June, is a framework listing four broad goals: creating and maintaining a cleaner urban ecosystem, and fostering a more connected community, a network of parks and a wild urban waterway. A more in-depth master plan, looking at transportation options and waterfront access around the canal, among other things, will be developed over the next few months.

According to the Architect’s Newspaper, this is the first time the city has tried to clean the canal since it was channelized in the mid-1800s. But several smaller-scale projects have taken aim at the dirty waters, including landscape architect and urban designer Diana Balmori’s “floating island,” a 2015 partnership with GCC that layered plants atop metal culvert pipes filled with plastic bottles to filter out pollutants. And in 2016, a Gowanus community board approved the installation of dumpsters filled with soil and greenery around the canal to soak up stormwater before it reaches the waterway.