New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has created a robust Green Infrastructure Program to reduce combined sewer overflows (CSOs) in response to the 2005 Order on Consent.  However, Green Infrastructure has the potential to be more than stormwater management; we are committed to using GI to create innovative urban spaces that provide a broad range of ecological services for the city, habitat for other species, and places for human recreation, education, and stewardship.  Millions of dollars are being channeled into the construction of bioswales, green roofs, and rain gardens, but like most urban landscapes, funding for critical maintenance and workforce training opportunities have been overlooked. Stormwater infrastructure, and green infrastructure specifically, require regular maintenance to ensure proper function. Garbage, periods of drought, trampling, and weeds can hamper the performance of green infrastructure and undermine public support. Well designed and adequately funded maintenance not only makes certain the capital investment is not squandered, and can educate, engage, and employ the public. The Gowanus Canal Conservancy (GCC) and thread collective are working on a variety of projects and education efforts in this arena that integrate design and maintenance. We believe the intersection of design and a robust education and training program can demonstrate one path to a citizen based maintenance solution, creating engaged residents advocating for a better environment along the way.

GCC recently created an innovative Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) curriculum for middle school students. STEM Gowanus is centered on a series of field lessons in which students observe and document the canal’s ecology, and learn how green infrastructure is a critical strategy to clean the canal waters. ​A companion educational effort focused on adults is GCC’s Bioswale Stewardship Training class and curriculum to engage people in understanding, advocating for and maintaining the thousands of bioswales across the city that play an important role in managing stormwater and reducing combined sewer overflow. Citizens in their own neighborhoods walk by these green infrastructure elements on a daily basis; this training equips them to respond to maintenance needs through direct stewardship or reporting, and to explain and advocate for green infrastructure to neighbors.

But training and field work can be hard to manage, in part due to poor weather conditions, lack of access to sites, and the storage and moving of equipment. In response to these challenges, GCC and thread collective have designed a Gowanus Field Station at the Salt Lot to support GCC’s various education efforts including the STEM Curriculum and the Bioswale Stewardship Training Class. The Gowanus Field Station embodies hands-on learning: it is an outdoor classroom designed to also be a storm-water “eco-machine” that will host a green roof, sit next to a bioswale, capture rainwater for reuse, and use a vegetated rain garden to clean sink water before discharging to the canal. Water testing and maintenance training will be a key part of activities hosted here. The field station design is comprised of three interlocking rectangular forms, set at an open angle to create several gatherings spaces that vary in size. Additional programmatic elements include a latticed roof deck for observation, sheltered classroom space, solar system, specimen display, interactive map, a watershed laser cut deck, and a platform for water sampling cantilevered over the banks of the Gowanus.

In addition to the Salt Lot Gowanus Field Station, we see the potential for a network of Field Stations along the Canal, building on a conceptual project thread collective completed in 2012. The “Gowanus Field Stations” was an exploration of the emergent ecology of the canal, through temporary public “seeds” dispersed along its length. Each field station creates a dedicated space for people to observe and engage with a distinct aspect of the canal: these discrete experiences create a shifting, composite understanding of the area, and recognize the intermingling of human and natural systems.

Gita Nandan & Elliott Maltby, thread collective

Image courtesy of: thread collective