Gowanus Ecology Initiative

Download the poster.

The Gowanus Ecology Initiative is a multi-dimensional educational and collaborative platform focused on the built and natural environment of the Gowanus and relevant to urban systems generally.

Design Challenge

This project’s brief is to reframe a community and educational discussion around one of the most emotionally fraught redevelopment challenges in New York and turn a what is widely considered a toxic asset into a positive opportunity for community building, education and urban revitalization. Specifically, we are hoping that by creating a coherent and more nuanced understanding of urban ecosystems through the Gowanus Ecology Initiative we can galvanize citizen action around Gowanus issues.

Project Objectives
Give the neighborhood its own voice. Teach and engage the community about the Gowanus’ history, its current status, its vibrant creative community and its potential for development. For the initiative to become a forum to inspire local community and regional institutions’ action with a focus on the greening of our infrastructure, incorporating sustainability into the fabric of future Gowanus development.

Description of deliverables
Integrated set of communication tools that can articulate a clear vision for the Gowanus Ecology Initiative and engage the community in a dialogue around its goals and principles.

  • Campaign name and identity system/kit
  • An informational brochure/poster distributed throughout the neighborhood and that was launched at the May 5, 2020 Annual Gala
  • A related info graphic about local ecology topics
  • A short video (1:00–1:30), or a series of short videos (:15–:30) that communicate the campaign’s goals and message.
  • A microsite that contains the video(s), the infographic and brochure/poster, and instructions for how people can get involved and donate.
  • Some kind of building graphics on the Smith+9th St. site that relate to the infographic and/or direct people to the website.
  • A style guide that explains usage and outlines the rules and ideas for future implementation.

Audience/community outreach and involvement
Engaging activists, artists and small independent industries and studios within this urbane Brooklyn neighborhood, we’ve worked collaboratively with a variety of Gowanus community members, local and regional organizations working on related community-based design and urban ecology issues. Methods for engagement have included discussions, workshops and open design sessions that have led to intense reflection on the strategies and methodology for the Gowanus Ecology project itself. Two school collaborations are underway, the first is a floating wetland project in conjunction with the Brooklyn New School and the second a recently completed urban planning and design workshop for middle school students in collaboration with Center for Urban Pedagogy. We’ll also be conducting a brainstorming session with Brooklyn School for Collaborative Studies where we will gather ideas and impressions about touchstones for the Gowanus community.

Lessons learned/obstacles/successes (of the collaboration):
By and large, the process for this project was a success. The initial challenges were significant but the process of fleshing out the concept itself through dialogue with team members and the community was invaluable. We developed a new name and identity system that could serve as a living campaign for the surrounding community; something that would be adaptable enough to transcend one-off communications. A poster to initiate the communications campaign was created collaboratively using a combination of creative, descriptive, and active copywriting from the Gowanus client, and then incorporating that into the typographic identity system. The final challenges that lay ahead are with the remaining deliverables, coming up with the research and content for those deliverables. The goal is for this project to inform an evolving body of programming content and eventually pave the way for a physical ecology center or intervention of some kind.

Impact at city level and at quality of life level
Impact so far has been around the quality of life for Gowanus community members. An average of 5 – 10 people per day (during business hours) stop and read the posters on the GCCDC storefront, many coming in and asking for copies of the poster. (This means a minimum of 25 people per week or a total of over 400 people who’ve been thinking about what it is to be in Gowanus and considering their local ecology since May 5, just from one storefront). The posters have also been given out to the local Congresswoman’s office, Councilman Brad Lander and several other local non-profits further amplifying

impact. We’ve had many different individuals ask about the Gowanus Ecology Initiative and how they can get involved – and have directed them to various non-profits that work on the issues they care about. Thus, even at this early date the Initiative has served as an informal tool to facilitate coalition building among GCCDC, Living City Block, Gowanus Canal Conservancy, Brooklyn Dredgers, and the Gowanus Canal Superfund Community Advisory Group (CAG) as well as recruit locals who want to learn and do more for their neighborhood.

Future resources and next steps
The Gowanus Ecology Initiative can galvanize citizens’ action around Gowanus issues as well as help attract new resources through grants and other foundation support for our projects. From a poster to a center: this communications campaign will help us lay the foundation for a dynamic building that will present a physical model of what future development in Gowanus could be and break through potentially debilitating inertia of the Superfund process.

2011, arts/community programs, green infrastructure, health issues, Projects