Tidal Basin Ideas Lab: History Secured
National Mall, Washington, D.C.
Gowanus has a rich history. Originally a large, marshy wetland, the area is the site of early Dutch settlement, important Revolutionary War battles, and commercial industrial activity stretching back over 100 years. Now an EPA Superfund site, planners and real estate developers envision the area to be a locus of large residential development—a controversial proposal in light of the area’s overburdened infrastructure and highly-contaminated environment. In this context, and working closely with local community organizations, government agencies, and elected officials, DLANDstudio initiated and designed a new kind of public open space called Sponge Park™.
The Gowanus receives many millions of gallons of combined sewage effluent every year. The park is designed as a working landscape that improves the health of the canal over time. This innovative plan proposes strategies to divert stormwater run-off for use in the public park along the canal, reducing the input of stormwater into the sewer system.
The design of the pilot project is purposefully modular for easy replication. The plants used have been chosen due to their ability to extract heavy metals and biological toxins out of the contaminated water. The design proposes replicable, realistic strategies for fixing broken urban infrastructure in a manner that supports the promise of a cleaner future.
The Gowanus Canal Sponge Park™ Master Plan set a strategy of urban stitching to connect the public and private lands adjacent to the water and create a continuous esplanade running the length of the canal. Underpinning the strategy are a series of Sponge Park™ spaces that improve water quality and activate the canal edge while communicating a larger vision for stewardship of the environment to a community with many competing voices, agendas and concerns.
The pilot project along the canal corridor on Second Street was completed in 2016. Since its opening it has managed nearly 2,000,000 gallons of stormwater per year.