Thursday, April 03, 2008


I think it is significant that as major issues concerning development are being decided in Carroll Gardens and Gowanus, Mr. Deblasio has gone on a campaign against plastic plates in schools. Plastic is a genuine hazard, but it has been in use in schools without any proven fatalities for some time. Development is in the process of trying to change the character of the whole area now.

Those of us who live near the inlet are rightfully concerned about the Toll Project, which seems just plain nuts as a residence until the waterway can be seriously detoxified. That will not be an easy task as I gather it is full of carcinogenic toxins like heavy metals. Business as usual has every possibility of creating a major, long lasting health hazard, not to mention a profound environmental threat.

When you add in that the sewer and storm system is already under visible stress each time it rains, the developer may build safe housing for residents. At the same time the rest of us will start wrestling with substances that are forced into the water table, our basements, and simply into the street. That does not take into account the corrosive effect of such stuff on the footings of buildings that are 160 years old.

Building near the Gowanus Inlet can be great, but it needs serious government regulation, oversight, and a concrete program to control the environmental toxicity that is already there. For that to be the case, we need a serious government. That hope is at least a year away in Washington and perhaps nearly that long in Albany.

The charade of public oversight in the Atlantic Yards project shows that at present government will sanction and even pay for construction that is potentially devastating without any serious thought to infrastructure, the environment, or human beings. In the case of any plans for the Gowanus Inlet, it always seems that these concerns are afterthoughts. That is not a great idea with a river of toxic waste that is only nominally under control at present.

Through all that, many here love the inlet and it does have great potential. The first priority for change around the Inlet should always be the well-being of those who are here. Prudent choices should be made with environmental conditions governing architecture and engineering, not the reverse.

Each of the proposals to date privatizes and obscures the inlet from the public to make the waterway an exclusionary property; thus in theory raising its value. That idea is at best comic when you stand near the inlet at low tide as of now. Yachting on the Inlet seems a most unlikely amusement.

The warehouses and businesses in the area have no use for the inlet and it could be made into a viable space. Scale, however, and public access should prevail in any determination of what to build there so that the waterway does not continue its long tradition as a reeking, poisonous industrial trench.

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