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Gowanus Gentrified? Community Responses to Gentrification and Economic Development in the Shadow of the Superfund

Michael Spitzer-Rubenstein

Title:
Gowanus Gentrified? Community Responses to Gentrification and Economic Development in the Shadow of the Superfund
Author(s):
Spitzer-Rubenstein, Michael
Thesis Advisor(s):
Linn, Meredith
Date:
Type:
Undergraduate theses
Department:
Urban Studies
Permanent URL:
Notes:
Senior thesis, Barnard College.
Abstract:
Gowanus is an industrial neighborhood changing into a gentrified area, but it faces such severe pollution that the EPA designated the Gowanus Canal, which bisects the area, a Superfund site in 2010. The industry still in Gowanus includes a mix of traditional industrial businesses, craft industries, and artists, but they might disappear if developers build luxury condos in the neighborhood. This study looks at the clash between activists over how the community has and will change, focusing on the pro-development Gowanus Canal Community Development Corporation and the preservationist and pro-Superfund Friends and Residents of Greater Gowanus. Many local activists embrace the vision of Gowanus as a place for making things and hope to maintain industry. Even though industry left the neighborhood polluted, most do not connect the two. The Superfund seeks to clean up the neighborhood but it may pave the way for environmental gentrification, which is the pollution cleanup causing gentrification. However, fears of the Superfund harming home prices do not appear to be true; GIS analysis shows that land closest to environmental hazards increased the most in value. Residents also hope to avoid the experiences of other New York neighborhoods, which saw gentrification cause displacement. More than residential displacement, though, activists worry about the culture of Gowanus disappearing and hope to save it. Their remedies such as historic preservation and zoning Gowanus for mixed use may not be effective or viable, though. Both major groups seem to accept the idea that attracting the creative class is crucial to economic success, and that they should make efforts to attract creatives to the area. However supporters of industry extend the definition of creative class from white-collar professionals to include blue-collar workers manufacturing custom-made designed products. Because of a lack of government involvement or a unified community forum, there is no clear path for resolving those differences and planning for the future, but a system of participatory planning could help resolve conflicts and develop plans to permit changes in ways that don't destroy the Gowanus community.
Subject(s):
Environmental justice
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509
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