Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Evicting Gowanus

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
Eagle Clothes
Gowanus Wilderness


Seth said...

Sadly, since the Daily News just fired dozens of veteran journalists, they're MUCH emptier than the South Brooklyn Casket Company. I'd hope the Daily News would be a little more sympathetic to destruction of veteran institutions in the city. In fact, one of the big draws of Gowanus, the indoor rock-climbing gym Brooklyn Boulders, is housed in a building that used to be the Daily News delivery truck garage.

Unknown said...

are they offering $ to the artists to leave? (as they did w/the tenents in hudson yards)? why dont they get a lawyer & go for the $$$? as i remember sunset park is asian? that sounds like a festive area to live. w/all the immigrants/refugees coming into NY, i would think there would be some less expensive neighbothoods.

Kyle Campion said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
onemorefoldedsunset said...

I think the artistic community in Gowanus is hard to define. Certainly there are artists who have been there for decades, but also others who moved in much more recently. I'm sure there are plenty of trustafarian types, but it's very mixed - I know other, serious artists, who've been around a long time. But of course, the combination of geography - poised in between wealthier areas & industrially chic - plus the inevitable artist "settlers" eventually creating a high real estate value neighborhood makes Gowanus another doom-laden area. The sad thing is that the cycle's so horribly speeded-up these days. The cute retail is there on Third now , plus Whole Foods, and rentals are now higher than Carroll Gardens or Park Slope. Gowanus is uber-chic. It makes me laugh, then it makes me sad, to walk around my neighborhood and see high-rise apartments in the works overlooking the Gowanus & Prospect Expressways. What fools! Gentrification in Sunset Park is not that lightly touched, unfortunately. Real estate prices have soared in the past few years, and I'm just sick thinking of how this will progress. Multi-families are selling like hotcakes.
Two more things:
1. The Ample Hills thing infuriates me. To use Whitman for the name of a stupid ice-cream store ...
2. Overheard on Third yesterday:

From a phone conversation:
"And here's the good news - he's got a trust fund!"
... But, like, he DJs and stuff, he's still cool. He's still, like, rough around the edges..."

Rough around the edges, ha ha ha.

Scout said...

Kyle Campion said it true and loud - the days of poor, starving, bohemian artists in New York City ended in the early 80s (if not the late 70s). It's a lovely and romantic idea that's difficult to abandon, but it no longer really exists. The young artists I meet today through work are all subsidized by parents or spouse, and often use their tiny grant awards to buy a Prada purse or some such trifle.

Brian said...

I feel Sunset park was gentrified by the Chinese and Hispanic communities in the 2000s, meaning that prices were driven up by the influx of both populations into the area. It did not necessarily change the look of the architecture immediately but prices certaintly went up. The population per square block went up, rent went up. The stores may not have gone mainstream suburban chain mall but there has been a lot of turnover and a lot of the oldtimey stores and establishments are gone.