Portions of this article have been updated.
Where there’s water, there’s life, but only recently did the Gowanus Canal yield to nature’s laws. Once dumping grounds for the Mafia and an ink factory (thus the fetid smell and rainbow sheen), its previously muddy waters now harbor oysters. Locals hang out in the Canal’s parks, artists paint on its bridges, and some even paddle along the “Little Venice” of Brooklyn. But with far less foot traffic than neighbors Park Slope and Carroll Gardens, Gowanus remains untouched by gentrification. “There’s this invisible line at Smith Street,” says Regina McFadden, director of Gowanus Artists (gowanusartists.com), a group of 50 local visual artists. But where the cool kids go, the developers are sure to follow. While industrial zoning safeguards most of the neighborhood, locals know the immunity probably won’t last forever. As Anthony Monte, manager of the landmark Monte’s Italian restaurant, says, “You have Park Slope, Carroll Gardens, and Cobble Hill. We’re in the middle, the valley. It’s the final frontier.”
Boundaries: Nebulously drawn at Baltic Street to the north, Fifth Avenue to the east, 14th Street to the south, and Smith Street to the west
Transportation: The N, R, and M trains stop at Union Street, and at Fourth Avenue, where the F also stops. Roughly 25 minutes to Union Square.
Main Drags: Pockets of commerce and community are on Carroll Street, but Gowanus’s busiest street is the border shared with Park Slope, Fifth Avenue.
Average Price to Rent: Studio, $1300 ($1000); one-bedroom, $1500 ($1000 to $1300); two-bedroom, $1800 ($1200 to $1600); three-bedroom, $2000 and up ($1500 to $1800).
Average Price to Buy: Two-family house, $700,000 to $900,000 ($525,000)
Local Arts: The water inspires creative types to capture the canal before commerce takes hold. Brit transplant and artist Maisie Hill explains, “Nature’s coming straight up against industry. It’s a lot of extremes right next to each other.” On the last weekend of every October, Gowanus Artists open up their studios for the Gowanus Open Studio Tour. The Brooklyn Lyceum (227 Fourth Avenue) serves as a theater space, hosting improv jams, play tournaments, a series dramatizing buried souls in Green-Wood Cemetery, and concerts. On the Park Slope side of Fifth Avenue, Southpaw (125 Fifth Avenue) brings rock to Brooklyn.
Local Shop: Leaving Senegal to pursue the elusive American dream, Ibrahima Diokhane opened Keur Djembe (568 Union Street), meaning “House of Drums” in Wolof. He sells djembes, which he makes in his basement, and offers lessons for 10 bucks an hour (www.keurdjembe.com).
Green Spaces: Thomas Greene Playground (Degraw Street between Second and Third avenues), Ennis Park (11th Street between Second and Third avenues), and J.J. Byrne Park (Fifth Avenue between 3rd and 4th streets). Prospect Park is a stone’s throw away. The Gowanus Dredgers Canoe Club (www.waterfrontmuseum.org/dredgers) sport along the “Lavender Lake.” From late March to November, you can rent a canoe or have a Dredger be your host.
Community Groups: Combating displacement caused by gentrification, the Fifth Avenue Committee’s newest project is a Center for Community Development that will house its programs, local nonprofits, and businesses. The Gowanus Canal Development Corporation, a neighborhood preservation nonprofit, secured $478 million in public funds to construct a sewer treatment facility and repair the defunct Gowanus Flushing Tunnel.
Local Landmarks: The Carroll Street Bridge, a cable bridge built in 1889, crosses the canal and offers a good lookout point. Public Bath House No. 7 houses the Brooklyn Lyceum.
Best Restaurant: Most restaurants line Fifth Avenue. Off the beaten path lies Monte’s Italian restaurant (451 Carroll Street), New York’s oldest Italian eatery, which serves seafood, chicken parm, and ricotta cheesecake against a wraparound mural of Venice.
Bar Named After Gowanus That Is a Little Too Chichi to Be Bearing the Name: The Gowanus Yacht Club and Beer Garden (323 Smith Street, actually in Carroll Gardens) charms with its cheeky trashiness and satisfies with grilled hot dogs and cheap draught beer in Styrofoam cups.
Politicians: Councilmembers Bill deBlasio and Sara Gonzalez, Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, State Senator Velmanette Montgomery, and Congressman Major R. Owens—all Democrats
Crime Stats: The 78th Precinct serves Park Slope and the eastern side of the canal. As of September 25, 2005 it reported 1 murder, 5 rapes, 183 robberies, 56 felonious assaults, and 134 burglaries. (As of February 2, it reported no murders, same as last year; two rapes, same; 18 robberies, down 3; 28 burglaries, up 12; and four felonious assaults, same).
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on February 18, 2003