The Gowanus Sponge Park is finally arriving!
This Spring, local design firm dlandstudios will construct the long-awaited Sponge Park along the Second Street bank. Using sections of specialized plant life to filter rain and storm water, as well as any water overflow from the banks, the Sponge Park will filter out harmful pollution before allowing remediated water to flow into the canal.
This is a process called phytoremediation, in which patches of strategically planted foliage act as mother-nature's own “sponge,” absorbing run-off rain water.
The project has been a long time coming. It was first announced in 2008 as a partnership with the Gowanus Canal Conservancy, and initial designs had it reaching from Douglass Street all the way down to 12th Street. Of course, that was before developers like Toll Brothers had big plans for housing along the canal and before the Superfund designation. While the Conservancy and dlandstudios would like the park to span the length of the canal, it is unclear whether that will be possible.
Susannah C. Drake, President of dlandstudios, has been actively interested in improving the function of the canal “for years.” The firm, which is comprised of a group of landscape architects, urban planners and designers, has a history of looking at the environment's impact on the local Brooklyn community, and tackling ways to find practical solutions.
dland's scientific approach to urban planning is evident in past projects like the and the 2008 Pop Up Park project in Brooklyn Bridge Park.
dlandstudios with the help of the Gowanus Canal Conservancy was awarded a grant for the Sponge Park pilot project from then Councilmember David Yassky. The grant was to be administered through the Parks Department but is now funded through the Department of Environmental Protection's Green Infrastructure Plan.
“As a pilot project, it's much more extensive," Drake said. "It will certainly require some testing to make sure the park can function to its maximum effectiveness."
Around the time the Sponge Park concept was created, dland had just closed the MOMA exhibit “Rising Currents,” which deals with the rising sea levels incurred by global warming and climate change. Controversy around the Gowanus Canal clean-up provided an opportunity to focus on a local site to address a global issue.
The firm has submitted a portion of its designs for official review by the DEP, which must be approved by Community Board 6 before they move forward. Drake is confident they will be.
The project has many collaborators and supporters, from the Green Street Program to the Mayor's Office of Long Term Sustainablility.
“We were looking for a day-to-day way to manage this on a real level,” said Drake about the many partners. “It's just kind of what we do.”