Gowanus Canal Sponge Park | Notes of Interest

The Gowanus Canal Sponge Park™ is a public open space system that slows, absorbs and filters surface water runoff with the goal of remediating contaminated water, activating the private canal waterfront, and revitalizing the neighborhood. The total proposed area for the Gowanus Canal Sponge Park™ system is 11.4 acres: 7.9 acres of esplanade and recreational open spaces, and 3.5 acres of remediation wetland basins.

The most unique feature of the park is its character as a working landscape: its ability to improve the environment of the canal over time while simultaneously supporting public engagement with the canal ecosystem. New York City has a combined sewer system. Rain that falls within the Gowanus watershed enters the storm drains and mixes with raw sewage in the sanitary sewer system. In a heavy rainfall, the combined sewage and storm water overflow directly into the Gowanus Canal.

The innovative Sponge Park™ plan proposes diverting surface water runoff into a water management system. The storm water management system activates the corridors leading from the adjacent neighborhoods to the park esplanade, while preventing further contamination of the canal. The parks incorporate vegetated landscape buffers to slow, percolate and filter the contaminated water, reducing the input of stormwater into the sewer system while integrating programmed urban outdoor space to create an accessible waterfront.

Additional Credits

  • Funding made available by: The Gowanus Canal Conservancy, The New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission, and The New York State Council on the Arts

Gowanus Canal Sponge Park™

Jury Comments

An inspiring plan that can coexist with its industrial neighbors while redefining the word industrial and waterfront at the same time.

This project addresses a common problem in older cities with a striking way to create valuable urban open spaces as a byproduct.

The perfect approach that can apply to many of our cities’ neglected waterfront industrial sites containing a key element in urban transformation and water management.

2011 Institute Honor Awards for Regional & Urban Design Jury

  • Daniel Williams, FAIA, (Chair)
  • Daniel Williams Architect
  • Seattle
  • C.R. George Dove, FAIA
  • WDG Architecture, PLLC
  • Washington, D.C.
  • Vivien Li
  • Boston Harbor Association, Public Director
  • Boston
  • Claire Weisz, AIA
  • Weisz + Yoes Architecture
  • New York City
  • Bernard Zyscovich, FAIA
  • Zyscovich, Inc.
  • Miami

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