Building Community Capacity to Shape Their Neighborhood: Gowanus

In October 2016, the City made its long-awaited announcement to include Gowanus, Brooklyn on its list of Housing New York neighborhood rezonings. Even prior to the announcement, there had been extensive planning and community discussion about the future of the area, and Pratt Center has a long history of partnering with community-based groups concerned with accountable development and environmental justice in the area. From 2013-2015 Pratt Center guided Bridging Gowanus, a community planning process to shape a sustainable, livable, and inclusive future for the Gowanus neighborhood in the face of ongoing change, the Superfund cleanup, and real estate pressure.

Today, the majority of the Gowanus is zoned for manufacturing and surrounds a working canal, with the neighborhood boasting a strong industrial sector. At the same time, Gowanus has been drastically transformed in the last 15 years. Residents have been priced out and pushed out, as evidenced by the loss of rent stabilized housing and the decline of the Latino community. Meanwhile, industrial businesses are competing with as-of-right uses while small businesses are unable to afford their rent.

Concerned that the voices of those most in need and vulnerable to displacement were not being heard, a group of stakeholders convened by Fifth Avenue Committee came together and formed the Gowanus Neighborhood Coalition for Justice (GNCJ) to elevate the priorities of low- and moderate- income residents, industrial firms, and the neighborhood-based organizations and small businesses that serve them.

In March 2017, with technical assistance from Pratt Center and our partner TA organizations, GNCJ released Survive and Thrive: Towards a Justice-Focused Gowanus Neighborhood Plan, a report that builds off of their Platform and highlights the most pressing community issues that must be addressed prior to any rezoning. The report highlights:

  • Deep income inequality that is growing at a rapid pace due to rising rents in a neighborhood that once supported mixed-income residents,
  • Lack of tenant protections
  • Racial and economic segregation in the local schools
  • Deteriorating  housing conditions in public housing
  • Increasing threat to industrial businesses that provide decent paying jobs

As the Department of City Planning (DCP) prepares and releases its draft framework for the rezoning in 2018, GNCJ is calling for the inclusion of the needs of NYCHA residents in the plans, as well as those of the businesses and workers in the nearby Industrial Business Zone.

Pratt Center is continuing to work closely to support the advocacy and priorities of GNCJ, and to help them in developing innovative ways to address these issues.