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‘New voices’ on the Gowanus

Plenty of things have gone missing in the murky depths of the Gowanus Canal—including alternate visions for the future of the toxic waterway, according to those planning a public meeting this week. Organizers are touting the Feb. 4 event as a chance to hear from voices that have been previously marginalized or even completely omitted from discussions regarding planning along the canal, particularly on Public Place, a 5.8-acre tract of land at Smith and Fifth Streets. At the meeting, academicians, including professors and students from the Columbia University Graduate Schools of Civil Engineering and Architecture & Urban Studies, will present the core findings of their new book, “Eco-Gowanus: Urban Remediation by Design.” The Columbia team has been studying the canal and Public Place site since 2003. The book offers their findings and design proposals. A question and answer session will follow the presentation. The meeting, dubbed “New Voices on the Gowanus,” will be held at 6:30 p.m. in the auditorium at Public School 58, 330 Smith Street. Rep. Nydia Velazquez, Assemblymember Joan Millman, the South Brooklyn Local Development Corporation, Friends & Residents of Greater Gowanus (FROGG), and the Coalition for Responsible Development are sponsoring the meeting. Linda Mariano, a member of FROGG, said development priorities on and near the canal are skewed. “HPD put the cart before the horse,” she said, referring to the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development, the agency currently deciding which development team will win the right to build on Public Place. Last year, HPD convened a series of public meetings in hopes of hearing from the community about the path development should proceed. Public input helped inform a request for proposals released by the agency, soliciting developers. A decision is expected at the end of February, those familiar with the process said. Mariano said the site should be used only for recreation, as it was originally designated when it fell under public control in the 1970s. “We know that the water and the land are toxic,” she continued. No one has any business living on or near the water.” The canal is set to undergo $140 million worth of improvements, including a modernization of its flushing tunnel, which pumps clean water into the canal, improving its dissolved oxygen levels. Parts of the city-led project could be completed by 2012. The hope is that meeting, she continued, will create awareness. “People don’t know that they can effect change, and that they can stand up for the neighborhood they live in,” Mariano said.

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