Fighting Gentrification in Gowanus

Located a few blocks from the new Barclays Center, and wedged between Carroll Gardens and Park Slope — literally down slope of Park Slope — the Brooklyn neighborhood of Gowanus was largely obscured by its neighboring $3 million brownstones — until 2003.

That's when New York approved rezoning of North Park Slope. Developers swooped in, looking to transform 70-year-old tenement buildings along Gowanus's 4th Avenue into more lucrative housing. Between 2004 and 2006, residents who refused buyouts withstood targeted harassment, including suspicious fires, no heat or hot water, and verbal threats, until they were forced to vacate their homes.

Mobile workshop attendees explore the Brooklyn neighborhood of Gowanus. Photo by Lindsay Nieman.

On the first day of the 2017 National Planning Conference in New York, a group of planners and representatives from Fifth Avenue Committee (FAC), a nonprofit dedicated to advancing economic and social justice in south Brooklyn, took the 7 train, then the R from Javits Center to Gowanus for a workshop on rezoning, gentrification, and displacement.

A workshop attendee asked what happened to the displaced residents. "They usually couch surf for a while, then eventually become homeless," said FAC Executive Director Michelle de la Uz.

de la Uz gave a tour of the neighborhood, which is quickly losing its former affordable, predominantly Latino identity to gentrification. Walking north on 4th Avenue, workshop attendees encountered remaining local business and affordable buildings flanked by new hotels, shuffleboard bars, and luxury apartments — with rent starting at more than double the price FAC secures for displaced residents.

But rezoning might provide solutions to the problems it caused in Gowanus.

Luxury apartments (left) are swallowing existing affordable housing (right) along 4th Avenue. Photo by Lindsay Nieman.

As part of a city-wide effort to increase affordable housing access, New York has announced a rezoning study of the industrial area along the neighborhood's infamously polluted canal, which is undergoing a federally funded clean-up effort.

To keep the community involved, public meetings have been held, with hundreds of residents turning up to ask about the potential for further displacement, as well as development of public spaces along the canal.

"They want to keep the neighborhood mixed use. People aren't opposed to growth," de la Uz said. "They just want to keep it inclusive."

Top image: Skyrocketing prices are displacing long-time residents of Gowanus. Photo by Lindsay Nieman.

About the Author
Lindsay Neiman is assistant editor of Planning magazine.

May 7, 2017

By Lindsay Nieman