Home / General / Gowanus



This is one way environmental racism works. Cleaning up the Gowanus Canal in New York? A good thing. Taking the nasty stuff from one wealthy white area of Brooklyn and moving it to a poor area of Brooklyn dominated by African-Americans and Latinos? Deeply problematic.

Even if there really isn’t a bad guy here–the EPA wants to clean up the canal, everyone thinks it should be cleaned up, etc., as is so common, toxicity gets displaced from the rich to the poor. Those with the least power end up closest to the poisons.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google+
  • Linkedin
  • Pinterest
  • Also, Hurricane Sandy gave everybody in Red Hook a nice hors d’oeuvre platter of toxic waste already.

    I’m sure everyone will be shocked to find out that a number of the companies that polluted the Gowanus Canal and Newtown Creek are still in business. Phelps-Dodge, COME ON DOWN.

    • Good ol’ Phelps-Dodge. Always a good corporate citizen….

      • I have no doubt that they’ll dig deep to defray the cost of dredging the canal. And after they dig deep, they’ll dump the spoil in a protected watershed somewhere.

        • Andrew

          Not even the Army Corps of Engineers would give a permit for that; the stuff in the Gowanus is unbelievably bad, as in literally ate through the glass beakers when they took samples.

          • upside-down

            The Army Corp had plans under their program the City of NY to put the dredge material in the 4th St Basin, just behind the new Whole Foods. And the Army Corp plans didn’t include solidifying the dredge and the other safeguards in the EPA plan.

    • The Red Hook Horror.

      Sorry, couldn’t resist.

      • CaptBackslap

        It’s a pretty appropriate reference in a discussion of racism.

        • As much as I like quite a bit of his work, that is one story I can’t read any more.

          • Who is behind this claim?

            that’s because it is such a twisted truth made up by the new white folks in Red Hook. Look at who is behind this story and you won’t find any poor blacks and Latinos–but white Red Hook folks that have paid a million for their houses and want to control land use issues in a way that takes away industrial jobs.

            • CaptBackslap

              Wait, what? We’re talkin’ about HP Lovecraft.

    • Bill Murray

      Phelps Dodge was bought out by Freeport MacMoRan several years ago

    • and where is the pollution?

      Sandy dumped more toxic waste in the Gowanus NYCHA Houses than the whole of Red Hook got.

  • Can we get Slate to chime in on how this is great for the residents of that poor neighborhood?

    • JKTHs

      “I think that’s wrong. Red Hook may or may not need less toxic waste, but it’s entirely appropriate for Red Hook to have different—and, indeed, higher—levels of toxic waste than Carroll Gardens.”

      • Perhaps individual residents can negotiate with the polluters to take a certain amount of toxic waste into their homes in exchange for remuneration.

        man, gibbertarians suck arse.

        • Linnaeus

          Why do you hate the Free Market ™?

      • Grocer

        Yes, hilarious, Red Hook borders the canal as well.

      • Sherm

        Well done!

      • tonycpsu


    • UserGoogol

      In the article the EPA says it’s great for the residents of that poor neighborhood: that the processing will make it safe and create jobs and land.

      I can understand wanting to be somewhat cautious and being annoyed at the optics of shoving it in a poor neighborhood, but if the EPA says it’s safe it really seems overblown to act like it’s some sort of grave threat to the community. They’re the experts.

      • LeeEsq

        Even deeply-committed experts aren’t immune to the necessary evils created by politics and the need to spin things with diplomatic language.

        • And there’s also the added nuance of the fact that the EPA has been after the Gowanus clean up for decades, and is probably….eager…to get it done before Obama leaves office.

      • More Safe tha Whole Foods in Gowanus

        The design for the CDF offers much more protection from contamination than the measures taken at the Gowanus Whole Foods Organic store site. So the rich people shopping at Whole Foods will be exposed to far more toxic danger than the CDF will bring to Red Hook Residents who are by comparison far from the CDF.

  • Andrew

    Not saying this plan isn’t extremely horrific for a variety of reasons, but but honestly Red Hook and Boerum Hill are not really different areas, they both adjoin the Canal.

    What this country needs to do is put some serious, serious multibillion dollar efforts into devising cost-effective ways to remediate these kind of places. At the very least in this situation they should be incinerating everything they take out of the canal.

  • Grocer

    Not to dispute the general thrust of the post, which is true, but market rents in Gowanus proper are lower than in Red Hook, even after Sandy (the areas around the canal flooded as well, though not nearly as badly, toxic water aside). The housing projects pull the average rent down in Red Hook, but there are projects at the far end of the canal as well where it’s just as polluted. And the canal itself is as close to residential Red Hook as the proposed site. The Red Hook ball fields next to the proposed site are colloquially known as The Red Hook Country Club due to having the nicest public pool in the city and draw a mixed crowd, racially and economically. And it’s not like Ikea is ‘scrappy’. Well maybe. Point is, it isn’t quite so cut and dry.

    To me this feels more like the money people taking advantage of the long-standing grudge between Red Hook and Community Board 6 (which represents Red Hook and Carrol Gardens, as well as Park Slope, Gowanus, and Cobble Hill and shits on Red Hook every single time they can) to get the cleanup shut down or delayed indefinitely. I don’t think they should put it there either but there’s just no good solution to storage of toxic waste.

    • Halloween Jack

      And the canal itself is as close to residential Red Hook as the proposed site.

      Yeah; I realize that not everyone is living or has lived within smelling distance of the Gowanus, but it’s easy enough to call it up on Google Maps. Erik’s framing notwithstanding, this is more a matter of rampant NIMBYism that would like to pretend that having the toxic waste in an open canal is preferable to putting it in a non-reactive form, with the encouragement of the corporations who would have to pay for the cleanup.

    • Sockie the Sock Puppet

      As an actual Brooklyn resident, let me also say that this is really sloppy work on Erik’s (and by extension, The Gothamist’s) part. The area around the canal is every bit as poor — if not poorer — than many parts of Red Hook. Please don’t simply take my word for it, check out these maps:


      Now, if you want to draw the boundaries just so and say the Carroll Gardens ought to be averaged in, and thus the canal is part of a wealthy neighborhhod, that’s fine — just deeply dishonest. When I lived on First Place, the canal certainly was considered a place apart. (Hell, the old-timers called the whole area “Red Hook” or “South Brooklyn.”)

      The real story here is that new people moving in, proud of themselves for finding deals in a neighborhood they want to puff as up and coming with its own Fairway and IKEA and trendy restaurants and bars, are upset. And they are using the residents of the Red Hook Houses as human shields to protect their real estate investments.

      • Those ball fields where the dumping will take place are literally on the wrong side of the road, however. Gentrifying? Sure, and rather quickly too, but nowhere near the high rent district.

        And yes, it’s Red Hook, which is defined loosely as anything between Hamilton Ave and the bay, including the Ikea and Fairway market.

        • Sockie the Sock Puppet

          I was just saying that labels are fluid — in living memory Carroll Gardens was considered Red Hook and the whole swath below Atlantic was once just “South Brooklyn.” As real estate agents began trying to move people like … me, I suppose … into the area, they cooked up names that didn’t have associations with hoodlums. (Thank goodness not all of them stuck — there was a push awhile back to make “BoCoCa” a thing.)

          And yeah, Red Hook (circa 2013) isn’t anyone’s idea of swankytown. But gentrifiers have staked their claim. And while for now they might be using the people in Red Hook Houses to cry “environmental racism” but I’d bet that once the present crisis passes, they’ll go back to dreaming up ways to shut down the projects as they grill up their artisanal bratwursts.

        • upside-down

          Actor 212,there is no plan to do any dumping on the ball fields.

          But what is sure crazy is that some of the same people yelling about the Red Hood CDF at the EPA meetings are some of the same people who are fighting for the right to swim at Thomas Green Park–a highly toxic land. How can you both fear contamination placed blocks from a park in Red Hook yet want to keep a park on top of toxic coal tar in Boerum Hill?

    • Irony

      At the Red Hook meetings there were shouting matches between the white folks against the CDF and the long time residents of the housing project.

  • Pingback: Noxious New York Redux « metropolitan history()

  • shah8

    Too sleepy to go into this deeply, but this isn’t really environmental racism, at least in the classic sense. Institutional racism tends to be about finding ways to avoid minorities having access to usually nonexcludeable public goods. So the process usually involves both a corralling of minorities “on the wrong side of the tracks” and a situating of noxious industries among their midst (while not providing any but the most menial jobs there), and pollute untreated waste into the water and soil.

    This is more of a straight up Superfund site imbroglio, which pretty much happens every time there’s a serious attempt to clean things up. Land got valuable, impairment has to go, clean up? Oh, no, let’s fight it to the max.

  • Mart

    40 years ago my dad would occasionally take the family to watch polo matches on grounds adjacent to Butler National Country Club in Oakbrook, IL. He grew up with money and played polo in his youth. His dad died while he was young and his uncle got all of grandpas fortune over his mother. We were far from poor, but I will never forget the look of disdain from our betters.

  • Mart

    Oops, managed to respond to wrong post – go Blues…

  • Jbergmano

    I have lived next to the gowanus and it’s no fancier than red hook.

  • Pingback: Socialism You Can Believe In | Terraformed()

  • I’m merely going to point out that Red Hook is gentrifying at an alarming fast rate and soon, it won’t be poor folks, except for one housing project which is not that close to those fields

It is main inner container footer text