Gowanus Lowlands is a community-based vision for a network of parks and public spaces centered on the Gowanus Canal and connecting to the surrounding watershed. The future of the Gowanus neighborhood is entering a critical phase, with the confluence of the Superfund cleanup, city land use studies and climate change likely to trigger significant shifts throughout the neighborhood. The Lowlands seeks to ensure the community has a key role in leveraging these changes and investments to shape a watershed that is accessible, active, and clean for all.

The Gowanus Lowlands vision builds on two years of close collaboration with the community, landowners, elected officials and agency representatives to identify priorities for the future of Gowanus. Gowanus Canal Conservancy worked with SCAPE Landscape Architecture to coalesce this collaboration into a set of layered strategies and processes:

Gowanus Lowlands is a cleaner urban ecosystem
Gowanus was once a literal lowland – a productive tidal marshland with a deep floodplain, salt meadows and oysters the size of dinner plates. Leveraging the upcoming Superfund cleanup and DEP’s investment in green and grey infrastructure, the Lowlands includes watershed and site-scale strategies for a cleaner, more resilient urban ecosystem, including green roofs, stormwater streets, day lit creeks and in-water restoration.

Gowanus Lowlands is a community connector
The Lowlands connects people to the canal, and supports a historic, diverse and unique mixed-use
neighborhood. Streets leading to the canal are developed with a clear identity structured around the role they play in the urban network, be it a commercial corridor, a functional industrial route, or a residential street linking parks to the canal.

Gowanus Lowlands is a network of parks
Many of the current parks in Gowanus are disconnected from the canal and require improvement and renovation. The Gowanus Lowlands stitches together investments in parks, corridors, street ends, waterfront esplanades, sewage detention tanks and salt marsh restoration sites, creating a network of public spaces that center on the canal.

Gowanus Lowlands is a wild urban waterway
A walk within the Lowlands immerses one in the powerful ecology of this tidal estuary. Streets dead end
at the canal, creating space for filtration gardens, get-downs, and boat launches. Street ends connect to a coordinated network of walking paths that slope up and down along the water’s edge. As the canal is remediated, and sea levels rise, edge designs adapt to address site specific conditions and uses, including water access and floodability.

As with the design, the long-term success of this vision will also depend on the Gowanus community. Over the past decade the Gowanus Canal Conservancy has activated and empowered a network of volunteers, K-12 students, and partner organizations to steward the canal and watershed through programs in environmental education, restoration and management. That commitment will only deepen under the management plan for the Gowanus Lowlands, which creates a paid apprenticeship program for young adults called the Gowanus Green Team and expands paid and volunteer opportunities for community members to work toward a vibrant, healthy Gowanus neighborhood that benefits everyone.

Andrea Parker, Gowanus Canal Conservancy

Image courtesy of: Gowanus Canal Conservancy & SCAPE Studio