Artists have had their studios in Gowanus since at least the 1970s. For decades, the industrial no man's land between Park Slope and Carroll Gardens was otherwise "undiscovered," known intimately only by the working class people who lived there, the working class people who worked there, and a handful of artists.
All of that has changed in just the past few years, as Brooklyn has become an unaffordable, international brand of luxury and hipness--making every inch of the borough potentially "the next Williamsburg."
Developers have descended on the shit-filled canal.
This past weekend, during Gowanus Open Studios, a group of artists protested their upcoming eviction. More than 250 painters, sculptors, and others are getting the boot from their studio buildings, some of the longest-running artist spaces in the area.
Reported the Daily News: "Developer Eli Hamway, who is involved in condominium projects in Williamsburg and Prospect Heights, leased the three buildings for $21.2 million in April 2015."
But this end of Gowanus is not zoned for residential -- yet. The artists I've talked to suspect the new tenant will be some sort of "maker space." (What is it with New York today that we've got "makers," "artisans," and "creatives," but none of them are artists -- and they're getting all the prime real estate?)
So where will these Gowanus artists go? Many say they'll migrate to Sunset Park, which is also experiencing the first touches of hyper-gentrification. (The Brooklyn Flea gentrification machine has arrived.) I'm also hearing chatter about artists moving to Bay Ridge, one of the last non-gentrifying neighborhoods in the entire city. Ultima Thule.
Meanwhile, at the other end of Gowanus, the Lightstone Group is bringing a bland-looking, utterly massive mega-complex of 700 units, along with amenities like yoga and valet parking, plus a waterfront “esplanade park” complete with boat launch and “water access point.” You know, so you can access that shit-filled water.
In the developer’s renderings of the site, the canal is wreathed in green vegetation. Shiny happy people walk along the verdant paths and ply the blue waters in kayaks. The developers are banking on a clean-up of the canal.
But it's not clean yet. The Superfund site is full of human feces, dead animals, and an array of toxins and diseases, including gonorrhea. A brown goo periodically bubbles up through the sinks, toilets, and shower drains of buildings here.
Christopher Swain knows that goo well. This weekend, while the artists protested, the environmental activist swam the entire length of the canal.
He wrapped himself in layers of waterproofing, plugged his orifices with wax, and took the plunge. He did it to raise awareness and call for the clean-up of the canal. Which, by the way, he said tasted like metal, gasoline, detergent, and shit.
Gowanus now has a souvenir shop (where you can buy coffee cups that say "Some asshole developer"), a wildly popular ice-cream shop called Ample Hills, bars, restaurants, and a shuffleboard club that seems to cater to hipsters and young investment bankers.
Editors at the Daily News took issue with those who oppose luxury development here, those who "seem to think that a few vacant casket factories are worth going to the barricades for." (For the record, South Brooklyn Casket is not vacant--it's doing a brisk business. People keep dying in Brooklyn.) The editors wrote, "We respectfully send this message the enemies of Gowanus gentrification: You’ve already lost."
Well, they're right about that.
More on Gowanus:
Whole Foods Gowanus