Mapping Gowanus: Bond b/w President & Union

Writer Donnaldson Brown (who has written a play, The Gowanus Canal Anthology) provided these musings on her recent stroll.


Nothing makes visceral the relentless march of time quite like a walk through the Gowanus these days.

There is renewal. The yeasty aroma of bread baking for another event at the hip Green Building, which always has cars the vintage of old time mobsters parked outside. I don’t know why.










And the freshly pointed and painted coops for sale. “Modern Beauty, Classic Brooklyn,” the realtor’s sign says.










Maybe the “Classic Brooklyn,” is the view across the empty lot to the circa 1970 Chris Craft cabin cruiser sinking in the canal.









Or the rusting corrugated metal fence sloping past a bulbous ship’s stanchion (now purple) across the street.









I don’t know what they’re branding, “Classic Brooklyn.” But I suspect these realtors are not natives.

And something is ending here, too. Not just the dead cat decomposing beneath the chainlink fence and razor wire surrounding sleeping tour buses. Tour buses. A reminder that Brooklyn is a destination now. I’ve been here thirty years. Back when relatives gave me a worried look each time I admitted to living here. Back when the sidewalks glistened with splintered crack vials and hookers waited outside the cement mixing plant on Bond and 4th.  I’m not nostalgic for those shattered lives or for the decay.

But I am a little nostalgic for the moment, the time between what may have been the Gowanus’ nadir and the now established revival, with its developers excited like they’re at some charismatic Pentecostal service. A little nostalgic for the time when those settling here had to have some guts and vision, and maybe a little desperation, not just money. A little nostalgic for what had to make way. And what’s always on the other side of nostalgia? Anxiety.

My dogs and I amble through the Gowanus still. Our walk now punctuated by the pounding hydraulic pile driver sinking pole after pole of metal through the dirt and mud for the foundation of a 700-unit apartment building going up three blocks away. It’s good. For some. Housing for new families. Families with children and pets. For bakers and teachers and bankers. And….

…I balance on that purple stanchion teetering between nostalgia and apprehension.

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