The Gowanus Canal is getting a Sponge Park, which sounds positively charming until you consider what a sponge actually does: In this case, its job will be to absorb the multivariate horrors that would otherwise flow into the already filthy Gowanus Canal. Bring your children!
The $1.5 million Sponge Park (a name trademarked by its creator, Susannah Drake), will consist of a 2,100-square-foot plot filled with plantings capable of absorbing whatever flows its way—heavy metals, dog waste, human waste, human, dogs, a dolphin, the usual.
The canal has been a dedicated Superfund site since 2010, but among its many problematic features are its outflow pipes, which divert overflow to nearby streets during rainy weather. In an effort not to tax the city's aging infrastructure, the water-cum-sewage instead flows into the canal. The goal of Sponge Park is to help mop up that runoff so residents of Gowanu are not tracking mutant whale viscera onto the floors of their $1.8 million apartments every time it rains.
Drake told the Times that, according to her research, the park would capture all of the water flowing toward lower Second Street, and during extreme rainfall, it will serve to capture some of the gnarlier pollutants before they head into the canal. It has “just the right amount of sand and organic matter, because you want to get the right balance of permeability and water-holding capacity,” she said. The park is expected to open next spring.
All of these measures will become increasingly common as rising sea levels conspire to drown low-lying locales like Miami and Lower Manhattan. A bioswale pilot program—curbside gardens that capture storm water runoff—has proven more successful than initially hoped for. Sponge Park itself is a pilot—if effective, more like it may soon be on the way. Additionally, the Trust for Public Land has overseen the creation of seven playgrounds designed to absorb storm water, with another 40 planned.
“New York City is proving to be a laboratory for green infrastructure, and the city’s D.E.P. has been very creative about trying out new solutions,” Adrian Benepe, the senior vice president and director of city park development, told the paper.
In October, activist Chris Swain successfully swam the length of the canal in order to raise awareness of its incredible putridity.