Floating pollutants on Gowanus Canal

For my 2024 involvement with Janes Walk, named in honor of Jane Jacobs, City planner extraordinaire, I went on an excursion billed as a “Gowanus Soundwalk.” Organized by the Municipal Arts Society, my walk was led by delightful Miranda S., a musician whose knowledge made her well-suited to the focus on sound. About twelve people gathered at the starting point, many of them residents of the area we were exploring. We walked for several hours stopping to discuss the sounds we’d heard on each stretch and learning about the Canal.

As to what we heard: even though it was a Saturday there was plenty of construction noise to say nothing of cars, an EMS vehicle, trucks and the accompanying human sounds and yes, on some streets, chirping birds. Inside Powerhouse Arts, a “factory” for ceramicists, print makers and other artists, the sounds were very different partly because we were indoors. Interestingly, the people pushing heavy-looking carts around the Grand Hall didn’t talk to one another much but the noises of their carts and footfalls were audible. (Side note: Powerhouse Arts is well-worth visiting and offers tours. To learn more and sign up: https://powerhousearts.org/about/visit-us/)

Great Hall of Powerhouse Art, the former artists’ and squatters ‘Batcave’



The Gowanus Canal was designated a Superfund site in 2009; cleaning it up began in 2013. Despite all the work by the EPA and other entities including the City, and the over $1.6 billion and rising funding the work, my impression is that the main beneficiaries will be developers. The area  has had stone and coal yards, flour mills, cement works,  manufactured gas plants, tanneries, factories for paint, ink, and soap, machine shops, chemical plants and sulfur producers operating on its banks since the nineteenth century, all dumping waste into the canal. Waste from area housing is also in the mix.  The lawyers of sewage, locally known as ‘black mayonnaise’ are deep; to add to the problems, climate change contributes to flooding. The air smells awful and apparently on hot summer days it’s awful plus 100. For more details on problems affecting cleanup, click here: https://www.eenews.net/articles/watchdog-to-epa-step-up-gowanus-canal-cleanup-enforcement/

The area was rezoned in 2021 with 8500 new apartments slated to be built over the next twelve years. 3000 units of this new construction will be “affordable” housing; luxury units are also being built.

Black mayonnaise is repulsive so here’s a recipe for the delicious kind:

Homemade Mayonnaise –courtesy Melissa Clark for New York Times Cooking

Makes 1 cup

  • 1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon cold water
  • ¾ cup neutral oil such as safflower or canola

In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolk, lemon juice, mustard, salt and 1 teaspoon cold water until frothy. Whisking constantly, slowly dribble in the oil until mayonnaise is thick and oil is incorporated. When the mayonnaise emulsifies and starts to thicken, you can add the oil in a thin stream, instead of drop by drop.

Watch Melissa in action: https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/12459-mayonnaise (Note: some of the commenters report using an immersion blender. Melissa’s version with a whisk gives you a mini-arm workout as the video shows.)

I’m entirely confident about the recipe, far less so about the Canal.

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