Community Planning Process

The conveners of the planning effort strove to design and execute a process that would be robust, inclusive, and transparent. Over a period of more than a year, through small group interviews, large public meetings, working groups, and web-based resources, the process engaged more than 300 interested stakeholders from the Gowanus area. It was designed to build on the extensive body of existing planning work that has been done in the area, and to tap the deep knowledge and expertise found within the community. The process began with the community identifying and refining a set of shared core values to guide the process and to serve as touchstones for the eventual development of recommendations. This was followed by participatory workshops where a suite of programmatic ideas were generated by the public, many of which are broadly supported. The process culminated with public discussions about the difficult trade-offs needed to bring amenities to the community, specifically trade-offs surrounding the controversial questions of density and new development.



The community planning process unfolded as follows:

+ Elected officials and 45 community leaders gathered in the church auditorium at Our Lady of Peace in August 2013 for the kickoff meeting to design the process.

+ The Pratt Center for Community Development conducted small group interviews with eight diverse stakeholder groups of especially interested and active stakeholders to identify core values, areas of enthusiasm, and fears about the planning process.

+ The first public meeting took place in December 2013 where more than 250 participants took part. At this meeting, participants reviewed and modified an emerging set of 7 shared values that had been drawn from the small group interviews. These were:

++ Address the social, cultural, and environmental infrastructure

++ Keeping a mix of uses of the area

++ Preserving and creating affordable housing

++ Need for more community amenities

++ The Canal as a publicly accessible, open body of water

++ Thriving local businesses should remain and expand

++ Preserving iconic historic buildings

Participants discussed these values in depth to affirm whether they were reflective of community desires, make recommendations about what was missing, and offer ideas about how to strengthen them. As a result of this input, an additional value was added:

++ Providing quality jobs through existing and new initiatives for the neighborhood

+ Over the winter of 2014, members of the public were invited to participate in four open working groups. Each met twice to work through key topics and dilemmas, and to brainstorm and develop innovative ideas to address ongoing challenges and help achieve the preliminary shared goals outlined at the first community planning meeting:

++ Environmental Infrastructure

++ Strengthening the Mix of Uses

++ Social and Cultural Infrastructure

++ Affordable Housing

+ The recommendations generated by these working groups were reviewed at the second public meeting in March 2014 where more than 150 community stakeholders participated. At that meeting, participants worked in small groups to mark up maps and consider which uses should go where in Gowanus. They also reviewed the “big ideas” developed in the working groups, many of which have become elements of this planning framework:

++ Hydrology Study and Flood Management

++ Coordinated Cleanup with Green Jobs

++ Gowanus Greenscape

++ Bring Back the (B71) Bus

++ Super Schools (new schools that act as community hubs)

++ Dedicated Arts Centers (this meeting was the first public opportunity to learn about the Powerhouse Workshop Community Arts Center)

++ Mixed-Use Buildings

++ Gowanus Special Manufacturing District

+ To help demystify the process and explain key topics, educational workshops and additional opportunities for input were sponsored and facilitated by the Center for Urban Pedagogy and the Fifth Avenue Committee on the topics of:

++ Affordable Housing

++ Zoning

++ Environmental Cleanup in Gowanus

++ Density, Design and Preservation

+ At the third public meeting in June 2014, sample scenarios for the future of Gowanus were presented to an assembled group of more than 150 participants. Each individual participant had the opportunity to select his/her vision for the future, and, if that vision included new density, to consider which amenities would need to be guaranteed in order to accept new density.

The planners, organizers, and stakeholders of Bridging Gowanus conducted extensive outreach to make the process inclusive. Meetings were advertised via local media, large-scale email blasts, neighborhood listservs, and targeted (bi-lingual) flyering. Spanish-language translation was provided at the public meetings. Two of the large-scale community meetings were held at the NYCHA Wyckoff Gardens community center, and flyering was done in the public housing developments. Despite these concerted efforts, low-income stakeholders were under-represented throughout the process. The framework recommendations attempt to address clearly and affirmatively what was heard from low-income participants and those who work closely with them. It is critically important that continued, intensive efforts based on best practices are made to engage these stakeholders in future conversations around these topics.

The Bridging Gowanus process, findings, and recommendations are accessible on the web, including video from the public meetings with Spanish translation.