News & Politics

Parties on the Newtown, Gowanus: Does Nature Need Gentrification?


The Gowanus Dredgers, brave navigators and fans of the slaggy creek that gave its name to an instanabe, are having a BacChANAL, get it, on September 25 with old-timey music, BBQ, and canoe tours.

We note also that the Newtown Creek Alliance is sponsoring a cruise along that future Superfund site on September 14 — with “narration by experienced historical and environmental guest speakers” instead of live music, it appears, but offering a brochure with maps and traveling all the way to English Kills.

Might these be harbingers of a new trend: eco-terror-tourism? Is this nostalgie de la boue writ extra large?

We’re not immune to the charms of urban decay. We love crinkled tin ceilings and musty botanicas and the smell of old wall plaster and the dehydrating heat of cast-iron radiators. But those are man-made artifacts from the relatively recent past; wear-and-tear gives them a little character. Nature, which is timeless, doesn’t benefit so much from wear-and-tear, which in this case means inundation with dangerous chemicals. And while a wonky radiator can be replaced, however grudgingly, natural resources don’t trade out so easily. There’s a big difference between worn chair-rails and a creek that hasn’t seen fresh water since the 1960s.

We know people are working hard to revive these waterways and godspeed them, but we’ve seen the Creek and the Canal up close and they are not yet pastoral scenes. There’s something perverse about lining up tours and picnics for them, as if they were Hiawatha’s Gitche Gumee.

On the other hand, maybe we’ve just gotten soft, and should admire these folks for a hardcore urbanism that doesn’t stop at the water’s edge. And their positivism may even help get more people to think of the Gowanus and Newtown Creek as worthwhile, and therefore worth cleaning. Perhaps we, too, should man up and do our bit by planning social events at the Fresh Kills Landfill and the Hexagon Laboratories hazardous waste site. Just trying to save nature hasn’t accomplished enough, so maybe we should try and gentrify it.

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