Gallery: Sponge Park To Start Soaking Up Pollution From the Gowanus Can...

From its sewagey stench to its lack of life, the Gowanus Canal is not exactly the ideal place for a lovely park. But with a Superfund clean-up currently underway to rid the waterway of hundreds of years of toxic pollution, a renaissance for the canal is on the horizon. Dozens of groups have proposed clean-up solutions to the city, but the most promising -- and the most interesting -- is the Gowanus Canal Sponge Park. Designed by Susannah Drake of dlandstudio, The Sponge Park is a multifunctional public green space that would run along both sides of the canal, helping to absorb and filter surface water runoff to remediate the canal. Community partner Gowanus Canal Conservancy is working with Drake to make Sponge Park become a reality, and this coming spring, the first section of the park will be installed along the canal's Second Street bank.

New York City has a combine stormwater and sewage system, which means that any heavy rain results in an overflow the pours pollution directly into the canal. Because of this, proper stormwater management is crucial to health of the Gowanus Canal. The Sponge Park uses landscape, architectural, and engineered strategies to slowly retain and filter runoff water. Drake proposes realistic solutions for a better management system, which would supplement the multi-layer design of the park.

The 3.5 acre park would consist of a variety of remediation basins and filtration swales that would include different ecological systems, like marsh wetlands, shrub wetlands, and wet meadows. Each system is planted with native plants that naturally clean toxins from water. Plants sunflowers, pussy willows, and duckweed will process heavy metals, while beach rose, pond weed, and white clover can process PCBs. Dozens of other native species will complete the environment, creating a home for animals and birds and bringing life back to the Gowanus Canal.

Sponge Park would also act as a cohesive force within the neighborhoods surrounding the canal by stitching together public and private spaces. Many historic sites sit alongside the canal, but have been in disrepair for years. Sponge Park would rejuvenate their presence in the local community, and create new access points to the water. Officials have made it clear that the canal will never be able to be restored to its thriving 17th century state, but Sponge Park uses the same plant species and ecological systems that helped control flooding and naturally keep the canal clean.

The design recently won a 2011 AIA Institute Honor Award for Regional & Urban Design, and has support from several city organizations. The Sponge Park is being funded by grant administered by the Department of Environmental Protection’s Green Infrastructure Plan. The project’s website lists many big city players — the Mayor’s Office, the Parks Department, Brooklyn Department of City Planning, and dozens more — as supporters, so its future is bright. To being construction in the spring, Sponge Park still needs approval from Community Board 6 and the DEP, but Drake is confident that the plans will be approved.

+ Sponge Park + dlandstudio + Gowanus Canal Conservancy

Images © dlandstudio

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