During a field visit to the Gowanus Canal this past week, the discordant relationship between urban development and nature became painfully clear. The waterway was conceived in a vacuum without any meaningful consideration of its relationships to its surrounding environment and community. Seemingly, from its inception, the Gowanus was considered merely as an artery for commercial venture. Its use in the city was fragmented from a larger ecological context. As such, the waterway, disconnected and only valued in one dimension, became painfully polluted and a stinking liquid stench in the middle of a dense urban settlement.
Today, there is an active effort to reconsider the Gowanus from a different and multi-faceted lens. Most significant is the way that the Gowanus is being valued on an equal plane as human settlement. This ensures not only the viability and sustainability of the waterway’s health, it points to the symbiotic relationship between the waterway’s health and the increase in the quality of life for human settlements as well.
This change in thinking points to a paradigm shift where the collective imagination is repairing the fracture between humans and nature. We are now asking ourselves the pointed questions that can lead to significant social, political and economic change. How can we live with natural systems in a more harmonious way? What does harmony look like? How can we see nature less as a resource to be exploited for capital gain and more as an equal on a more expansive, less rigid landscape. The Gowanus transformation is leading the charge to show that while correcting mistakes from the past can be an arduous and complex task, the benefits and rewards of large scale ecological renewal is the only way that all parties, natural and man-made, will thrive.