Neighborhood Beat Box http://neighborhoodbeatbox.org Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism Wed, 19 Oct 2011 01:22:36 +0000 en hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.0.4 Tribeca residents reflect on neighborhood’s history a decade after 9/11 http://neighborhoodbeatbox.org/2011/09/20/tribeca-residents-reflect-on-neighborhoods-history-a-decade-after-911/ http://neighborhoodbeatbox.org/2011/09/20/tribeca-residents-reflect-on-neighborhoods-history-a-decade-after-911/#comments Wed, 21 Sep 2011 02:48:43 +0000 Laurah Winder http://neighborhoodbeatbox.org/?p=5962

Nannies outside of the Whole Foods and Barnes & Noble stores on Greenwich and Warren streets, TriBeCa. Photo: Laurah Winder

Reported on August 20, 2011

Lower Manhattan neighborhoods—a decade after the 9/11 terrorist attacks—have been able to spring back faster than what was imagined at the time of the devastation. Government grants and incentives to attract people to move into the area have played a big role in this recovery.

For Courtney Jesinkey and Dave Barnett, a couple who are in their early 30s, the desire to feel a sense of community brought them to Tribeca. In mid-July, they moved into what is now the tallest residential building on the East Coast, the 76-story Frank Gehry building on Beekman and Spruce streets. The couple felt secluded and out of touch with social activities in their Upper Westside neighborhood.

“People are a different breed [in this neighborhood] than what I have experienced in my 12-plus years in the city. From restaurants to bars, customer service to people on the street, there is just a positive atmosphere and a more relaxed state than the normal and expected pace of New York City,” said Barnett.

Longtime resident, actor Robert DeNiro, founded The Tribeca Film Festival, with Jane Rosenthal and Craig Hatkoff in 2002, with a mission in mind. It was to help renew and rebuild the economy of Lower Manhattan through film, culture and music in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks that claimed the lives of nearly 3,000 people. Ceremonies to honor the victims marked the 10th anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks. http://www.911memorial.org/?gclid=CLfgu8il3KoCFcnc4AoduUZX-A.

Organizers of the film festival wanted the event to bring to the area the cachet otherwise reserved for Hollywood. During the first year of The Tribeca Film Festival, there were only two movies shown. But since then the list has grown, and as of April 2011, there were 185 movies shown. The festival also expanded to five locations beyond the neighborhoods borders.

Jesinkey, a new Tribeca resident, said, “Early on, my entire New York City life was spent in Alphabet City. I swore I would never move above 14th Street.” But after she met Barnett, she moved to the Upper Westside.

“As much as we loved the surrounding area, it was not a good fit for us. We longed for a neighborhood that felt less suburban and more ‘city.’ This neighborhood is a perfect mix of both,” Jesinkey said. “This area offers a genuine sense of charm, confidence and pride that I never knew existed.”

But some people who were residents of Tribeca at the time of the attacks are wary about the location.

Ivana Kaufman said she stayed and bought a loft, with her husband and two children, because she was offered a price below market value. She said the memory of devastation from the attacks is never far from her mind, especially when she thinks about health-related issues that might stem from the attacks. Kaufman said her long exposure to the area could lead to health problems that haven’t surfaced yet. The family has lived in the same building for more than nine years. http://www.nyc.gov/html/doh/wtc/html/background/addressingscore.shtml

The infusion of millions of dollars in federal funding has helped draw people to Lower Manhattan, fueling a surge in population. City statistics that group Tribeca, Soho, Civic Center and Little Italy for the count show a 16 percent in population to 42,742 last year from 36,757 in 2000. The neighborhood elementary school, Independence P.S. 234, has a waiting list of students and has had to rezone its boundaries. http://www.nyc.gov/html/dcp/html/neigh_info/mn01_info.shtml

The neighborhood offers seven nearby dog parks and bike trails on both the East and West sides of Tribeca.  The bustling Whole Foods Store that shines in the center below a massive always-crowded Barnes and Noble store, are signs of a community that has recovered.  As early as 2006, Forbes Magazine ranked Tribeca as the city’s the most expensive neighborhood.

Businesses are thriving. The owners are finding themselves having to keep up with the demand for new products that didn’t have a space on the shelves before the attacks. They are seeing new businesses that didn’t exist years ago. There is a Tracey Anderson Method Studio, which has been known to cater to Gwyneth Paltrow, Madonna and Nicole Richie. High-end loft apartments have celebrity residents who are actors and entertainers, including Jay-Z and Beyonce.

During the dark days after the attacks, businesses all across Greenwich Street pitched in by opening their doors in the evening to the local residents so they could have a meal at night—for free. Now, the owner of Gee Whiz, Chris Panayiotou, said he is amazed at how drastically the area changed.

Rachel Baker, a resident of Tribeca who left the area after the 9/11 attacks, remembers how the acts of terrorism forced her to evacuate her building for 11 days. “I was so angered by the circus of tourists and reporters who came to the area to climb lampposts to take pictures of the ever- smoldering buildings.” Her mother decided to stay in the same apartment.

“You think to yourself, it can happen anywhere, at any time. We stayed [her mother and grandmother],” said Baker, who added that when she goes back to visit her mother, she is surprised to see how different the community is now. “When I look at the community, in the shape it’s in today, it’s as if 9/11 never happened.”

Baker said although she has moved out of the area, she has been left with an upper respiratory condition for the rest of her life.

The city has continued to work hard to build the downtown community both structurally as well as emotionally, and is dealing with concerns the Tribeca neighborhood has about health issues. According to the 2010 Annual Report on 9/11 Health, well-documented studies have tracked a variety of respiratory problems with people who have lived and worked in the area during the past 10 years. http://www.nyc.gov/html/doh/wtc/html/background/funding.shtml

Barnett, who lives in the Gehry building, concluded, “9/11 will always be on my mind. What the area does is continue to remind me to never forget what happened and live every day of your life to the fullest. I should hope every New Yorker feels the same, living downtown, or not.”

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Curry Hill restaurants score low grades on health inspections http://neighborhoodbeatbox.org/2011/09/10/curry-hill-restaurants-face-poor-grades-on-health-code-inspections/ http://neighborhoodbeatbox.org/2011/09/10/curry-hill-restaurants-face-poor-grades-on-health-code-inspections/#comments Sat, 10 Sep 2011 22:55:17 +0000 Sabrina Buckwalter http://neighborhoodbeatbox.org/?p=5938

Mice droppings at a Curry Hill restaurant have cost them many violation points. Photo: Sabrina Buckwalter

Reported on Aug. 20, 2011

The name Curry Hill invokes thoughts of dosa, tandoori, and chaat for Manhattanites who crave Indian food, but for the health inspectors from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the neighborhood has seen scores of restaurant health code violations.

The infractions for Indian restaurants here routinely include evidence of mice and roaches, with additional points docked for serving food at temperatures that are too low, according to the Department of Health.

Compared to other restaurants in the neighborhood, inspectors have graded Indian restaurants very poorly with 84 percent receiving a grade of B or lower, compared to sandwich shops at 36 percent; Chinese restaurants at 38 percent; and American cuisine restaurants at 39 percent.

That incongruity is not lost on the owners of several Indian restaurants in Curry Hill, like Anand Singh (name changed), the owner of Tamba who feels that Indian restaurant owners have been unfairly targeted, “It’s clearly a case of discrimination,” he said.

Another Indian restaurant just a few blocks south of Curry Hill, Tamarind 22, was hit with 31 violation points in July. In 2009, it won “Best Indian” by New York Magazine and most recently received the highest Zagat food rating. However, the Department of Health found at the most recent inspection items not kept at cold temperatures, live roaches, inadequate personal cleanliness, lack of proper hair constraints and conditions conducive to attracting vermin. Owner, Avatar Walia was unable to reach for comment.

New York City’s restaurant grading system began in 2010 in response to 311 hotline complaints about food poisoning, according to the Department of Health. One year has passed since the grading system began. Mayor Michael Bloomberg lauded the improvement in the sanitation of city restaurants during a press conference on August 1 at Spark’s, a deli in Long Island City. There, Bloomberg cited a total of 90 percent of city restaurants that received an A grade. He announced a reward to restaurants that maintained an A for 6 months or longer with waived violation fees (A grades are given to restaurants with 13 or fewer violation points). He said $3 million had been saved in violation fees as a result.

When it comes to violation points in Curry Hill, some owners cite the buffet-style set-up, popular in Indian restaurants, as the cause of many violation points because of the difficulty of keeping temperatures at the required levels. “It’s hard to keep food at a certain temperature when food burners are keeping it warm,” said Singh. The most recent grade his restaurant received was a B for 27 violation points for evidence of mice or live mice present in addition to other violations. He has asked his landlord repeatedly to bring in exterminators, as he says it’s his responsibility to do so, but has had little to no luck getting the landlord to cooperate.

The number of points assessed for a particular violation depends on how much health risk it poses to the public, according to the Department of Health. There are three different categories of violations, including a public health hazard that triggers a minimum of seven points; a critical violation that triggers a minimum of 5 points; and a general violation that triggers at least two points. Public health hazards include temperature violations and visible plumbing problems. Critical violations include the presence of mice and roaches. General violations include the failure to properly sanitize cooking utensils, food preparation areas and failure to wear proper hair covering.

Most often than not, the restaurant contests the grade if it falls at a B or below, at which point there the Health Department’s Administrative Tribunal that holds a hearing for the restaurant owner. The restaurant will then receive a “Grade Pending” card to display in their window until the hearing process is complete in 30 days.

Tamba was closed down because of plumbing issues last year in May, 2010 when a water from an upstairs residence began to seep through to Tamba.

“I was shut down because of a leak that was coming through the ceiling,” Singh said. The landlord couldn’t be contacted to fix it immediately, so Singh said he was forced to fix the leak himself. “I’ve asked the landlord to do something about the mice droppings and the cockroaches, but he won’t do anything. It’s not my building, not my responsibility. Why should I, as a tenant, have to pay for these things?”

Because of the dire situation the plumbing problem created, he said he spent $3,200 of his own money to fix the problem and consequently did not pay his full rent of $12,000 that month.

Restaurants like Tamarind 22 and others are reviewed at a local South Asian blog, NYIndia.us. The bloggers are particularly reverent when it comes to reviewing South Asian restaurants in the city. They keep their website updated with current Department of Health ratings on South Asian restaurants and provide the latest violation details to their readers. They have regularly noted that South Asian restaurants in the city are graded poorly.

With violations there is the threat of food-borne illnesses, but at least 10 people interviewed for this article who eat at Curry Hill establishments did not report gastrointestinal problems. Patrons said they forgave ratings lower than an “A.”

Nick Lopez, a vegetarian who lives just blocks from Curry Hill, says he goes to the Curry Hill restaurants because of the vast vegetarian selections they offer. As long as the food tastes good, he says he doesn’t pay much attention to the health department’s rating system. “It’s nice to know the rating and the risk I’ll be taking, but it’s more about whether I like the food,” he said.

Manpreet Singh, a taxi driver who eats in Curry Hill regularly says he looks at the grade a restaurant has been given and refuses to eat at places that have received a grade of B or lower. “I watch how they make my food and make sure it’s hygienic,” he said.

Amrita Ghosh-Douglas who eats at Curry in a Hurry and Saravana Bhavan didn’t feel the rash of poor scores for Indian restaurants was necessarily bad, “I don’t know how sad this is–it’s a cleanup. All I can say is I’ve never had a problem.” Ghosh-Douglas favors the bad grades in a way, in the sense that it means restaurants will be forced to become more sanitary.

The owners of Curry Hill restaurants feel unfairly targeted and frustrated say Singh. They have a different take on their business since the grading system began. Singh’s wife said she remembers a couple that ate at the restaurant four to five times a week until they saw the “Grade Pending” sign on their window.

According to the World Health Organization, there are 76 million cases of food poisoning each year in the U.S., resulting in 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths each year.

While the New York State Restaurant Association recognizes the seriousness of food-borne illnesses, its senior leaders also worry that the grading system has negatively affected small businesses. “The amount of fines generated continues to increase, burdening small business owners,” said executive vice president, Andrew Rigie.

Rigie says he has heard numerous complaints from ethnic restaurants that cite a lack of consideration for their form of food preparation and serving methods. “I’ve heard from Japanese restaurants that have complained about violations for sushi rice, and I’ve also heard from Indian restaurants who’ve encountered problems with temperatures of buffet-style food.”

He also says problems like the kind Singh had with his landlord that contributed to poor grades are not unique. Rigie receives complaints from restaurants that receive violation points for rodents because they’re located next to a rat-infested city parking lot.

Though Indian restaurants in Curry Hill have suffered a hit when it comes to grades, business hasn’t slowed for at least one owner. Shiva Natarajan who owns Dhaba and Bhojan will open his third Curry Hill restaurant next month.

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Passaic Street site scheduled for a facelift http://neighborhoodbeatbox.org/2011/09/10/passaic-street-scheduled-for-a-facelift/ http://neighborhoodbeatbox.org/2011/09/10/passaic-street-scheduled-for-a-facelift/#comments Sat, 10 Sep 2011 17:32:36 +0000 Danielle McGugins Bennett http://neighborhoodbeatbox.org/?p=5852

458 Passaic Street, an old car dealership, is designated for rehabilitation. Photo credit: Danielle Bennett

Reported on Sept. 9, 2011

Rehabilitation plans for 458 Passaic St. got a boost after the Hackensack, N.J., planning board approved the conversion and renovation of the site from a car dealership to a single or multi-use retail space.

The board recognized at a June 8 hearing that the 25,000-square-foot property needed to be renovated. The Passaic Street site was a Saab dealership that has been closed for about 10 years. Since Hackensack Ventures purchased the property for $2 million in 2008, the company has submitted three different applications to redevelop the property.

Charles Sarlo, who represents Hackensack Ventures, does not anticipate that there will be any opposition to the redevelopment of the property. “I don’t think so, I mean, you never know. You can never be certain about anything.” No one objected to the rehabilitation at the June 8 hearing.

Once the board’s resolution is published in the newspaper, individuals or groups have 45 days to appeal the resolution. If the resolution is not appealed, Evan Architects will submit updated designs to the city’s construction department for approval.

Developer Kami Rehanian of Hackensack Ventures, is actively marketing to retailers and supermarket vendors, according to Sarlo.

Peter Munshi, 68, manager of Jay Liquors and Fine Wines, which is directly across the street from 458 Passaic St., believes a residential property would be better than a commercial property at the site. “All kinds of businesses are here.” Munshi would support a supermarket, however.

Other businesses in the area, overall, put their support behind rehabilitating the property for retail use. Pete Parascand, 50, owner of Green Olive Restaurant, believes it would be a benefit to everybody and that his business would get new customers. Laura Caruso, manager of Dazzles Hair and Nails agrees. “It would be nice to see something over there,” said Caruso.

Rose DiPardo owns Tony’s Custom Tailor. She has been in business for 41 years. She supports the rehabilitation of the 458 property, which she calls, “kind of a sore eye,” since it has been vacant.

Some residents who live behind the property have varying opinions about the 458 rehabilitation project. Ryan Walsh, 30, who has lived at his home for a year has no concerns. Walsh’s neighbor, Francisco Valenzuela, 29, and his sister-in-law, Grace, 26, don’t feel the same way. Their family has lived in their home for more than 10 years. They mention parking, pollution and noise as some of their concerns.  “I don’t like to see a parking lot. I don’t like the way it is now. A marketplace would be okay,” said Valenzuela.

Stephen G.Herold is a real estate appraiser whose family business, Herold Appraisal Group, faces the vacant 458 property. He fully supports a change to the site. “Any development from a vacant building will be good […] better than a shell of a building.”

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Artist brings flavors of immigrant neighborhoods to Times Square http://neighborhoodbeatbox.org/2011/09/10/artist-brings-flavors-of-immigrant-neighborhoods-to-times-square/ http://neighborhoodbeatbox.org/2011/09/10/artist-brings-flavors-of-immigrant-neighborhoods-to-times-square/#comments Sat, 10 Sep 2011 17:12:30 +0000 Bogdan Mohora http://neighborhoodbeatbox.org/?p=5348

Hidemi Takagi speaks to a visitor and hands out candy purchased from 35 different immigrant neighborhoods in New York City at the opening of her new exhibit "Blender" at the Times Square Visitior Center. Photo: Bogdan Mohora

Reported on Aug. 6, 2011

A series of 95 color-saturated photographs—all shots of food displayed on trash cans—has positioned itself in Times Square. The new art installation by Japan-born artist Hidemi Takagi captures food that is canned, wrapped and boxed and is from 47 countries.

To create “Blender” as the exhibit is titled, Takagi didn’t have to travel to Ghana, Mexico or the Dominican Republic to find the variously packaged items.  Everything she photographed was purchased from shops in 35 different immigrant neighborhoods in New York City, such as Sunnyside, Ridgewood and Woodside.

“The packing of these products is a form of art that tells the stories and helps remind people that their culture is alive,” said Takagi, who moved to New York City from Kyoto in 1997 and studied at the International Center of Photography and the National Academy of Design.

From a custom-made, turquoise food cart with a red umbrella, just inside the doors of the Times Square Visitor Center, Takagi greeted visitors Thursday when the installation opened in the bustling district. They were given plastic bags containing imported items such as chocolate-coated jelly candy from Poland, glucose fruit candy from Ireland and instant coffee from Malaysia.  Inside each bag also were descriptions of the neighborhood in which the item was bought, the name of the shop and the country from which it was imported.

On the walls of the entrance, Takagi’s photos are shown on seven, large video screens.  “Blender” is the first public art installation to be projected inside the entrance to the Times Square Visitor Center, according to the Times Square Alliance.

“Every day hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the world seamlessly mingle in Times Square making it the perfect stage to spotlight Hidemi Takagi’s unique images, which offer us all a lens into New York’s immigrant communities and culture,” said Tim Tompkins, president of the Times Square Alliance, in a news release.

Outside, all of Takagi’s photos grace the sides of 25 trash cans scattered around the Broadway plazas.

“In this space dominated by gigantic images of global products and brands, these small products have a powerful emotional connection to home for many from Egypt, Colombia, Hungary, Serbia, Pakistan, Thailand, and Senegal and 40 other countries,” said Glenn Weiss, manager of Public Art and Design for the Times Square Alliance.

According to the Office of the Mayor, New York City’s immigrant population more than doubled to 3 million in 2011 from roughly 1.4 million in 1970.   Immigrants now make up nearly 40 percent of the city’s population and 49 percent of all self-employed workers.

In March, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg launched a series of initiatives to support and encourage immigrant-owned businesses in New York City.   One was a business expo that showcased locally-based immigrant food manufacturers and focused on linking their products with consumers across the country.

Takagi’s work is on display at 46th Street and Seventh Avenue through the month of August.

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Superfund site cleanup finishes this summer http://neighborhoodbeatbox.org/2011/09/09/superfund-site-cleanup-finishes-this-summer/ http://neighborhoodbeatbox.org/2011/09/09/superfund-site-cleanup-finishes-this-summer/#comments Sat, 10 Sep 2011 03:21:29 +0000 Amanda Fiscina http://neighborhoodbeatbox.org/?p=5867

The Liberty Aircraft Plant on Motor Avenue during the 1940s and the property today. Photo: Library of Congress/Amanda Fiscina

Reported on July 28, 2011

The debate over the toxic legacy of a 22-acre site on Motor Avenue resurfaced this summer, as Town of Oyster Bay officials consider proposals about what to build there.

Cleanup of the property, which is known as the Liberty Site, is on track to finish next month. The town board rezoned the property to allow recreational use at the July board meeting, leaving some residents campaigning for a pool and a community center and some worried about the site’s history of contamination.

“We don’t question the safety of the area,” said Bill Manton, head coach of Farmingdale Aquatics, a year-round, competitive swim program whose members have submitted a proposal asking for an aquatics center to be built on the site. “We think after all this, it is ok to be there,” he said.

Some residents disagree.

“I am an avid swimmer and would love to have a town pool in Farmingdale, but until facts are presented that prove a pool is safe from cancer producing chemical contamination, I cannot support that my tax dollars are used to build a pool at this location,” said Farmingdale resident Rosemarie Stauber.

Two decades ago the E.P.A. named the area a Superfund site for groundwater and soil contamination.

According to a report issued by the E.P.A. in 2011, the Liberty Aircraft Products Company produced aircraft parts there during World War II. After the war, the site was converted to an industrial park and later to a warehouse. Liberty and the other companies left behind a contaminated groundwater plume.

In 1986, the E.P.A. took the lead role in the $32 million cleanup, which involved creating a filtration system to remove the heavy metals and volatile organic compounds from the groundwater. Some of soil was also hauled from the site.

Ultimately, the E.P.A. plan only cleaned up the property to industrial standards. This became an issue in 2001 when the town announced its intention of acquiring the property and building recreational facilities there.

“The E.P.A. cleanup was the equivalent of having a dirty floor and putting a rug down,” said Town of Oyster Bay environmental consultant Hal Mayor. The town took over the next cleanup stage in 2002, spending $4 million to haul the rest of the soil from the site.

Health risks at the site are “no longer a worry,” Mayor said, since the water plume is not connected to any wells used by water districts and all the old soil is gone.

The last of that soil is being removed this summer and residents have brought proposals for a town pool, a community center and additional fields to the board.

Of the 22 acres adjacent to Allen Park, only 16 are viable for projects, since part of the area contains the underground filtration system.

“We are reluctant to put anything of an active nature over that area because if there ever is a problem and we have to get to it, we will have to completely disrupt that portion,” said town attorney Len Genova.

The town environmental consultant said it wouldn’t be an issue of safety, but of costs, to build a pool there.

“We have currently removed the soil 12 feet down to the water table,” Mayor said. “To build a pool we’d have to excavate below that, which brings new construction and soil testing costs. But it’s not a health concern because we’d remove all the contaminated soil long before the pool was finished.”

The town estimates that the center would cost $25 to 30 million to build. The pool the club currently uses at Farmingdale High School is 40 years old and the club is unable to host meets there because two lanes are too shallow.

The town plans to hold a community meeting in the fall to discuss all of the options, where residents like Manton and Stauber can express their views.

“I hope the town does its research,” Stauber said. “This is a pool that we put our bodies in, not a park we walk around in.”

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Harlem celebrates Obama’s birthday, 2012 campaign launch http://neighborhoodbeatbox.org/2011/09/09/harlem-celebrates-obamas-birthday-2012-campaign-launch/ http://neighborhoodbeatbox.org/2011/09/09/harlem-celebrates-obamas-birthday-2012-campaign-launch/#comments Fri, 09 Sep 2011 21:31:58 +0000 Edric Robinson II http://neighborhoodbeatbox.org/?p=5793 Reported on Aug. 6, 2011

Harlem4Obama event from Edric Robinson on Vimeo.

The Harlem4Obama campaign hosted an event on Aug. 4 to celebrate President Obama’s 50th birthday and kick off the 2012 re-election campaign.

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Gowanus: A neighborhood up for grabs http://neighborhoodbeatbox.org/2011/09/09/gowanus-a-neighborhood-up-for-grabs/ http://neighborhoodbeatbox.org/2011/09/09/gowanus-a-neighborhood-up-for-grabs/#comments Fri, 09 Sep 2011 14:29:16 +0000 Ali Hussain http://neighborhoodbeatbox.org/?p=5822

Residential development along the polluted Gowanus Canal has stalled due to its designation as a Superfund site by the E.P.A. Photo: Ali Hussain

 

Reported on July 30, 2011

Sixth Street, between 2nd  and 3rd avenue in Gowanus, Brooklyn, is so desolate that it looks like a scene out of an old Western movie. The road is covered with dust and debris. Flecks of broken wood, collapsed wired fences and crumpled paper lay strewn across the street. One half-expects two men, with guns holstered, to walk out of a shaded corner and face each other in a duel. If it were not for the industrial warehouses that give the streets a sense of time and place, the neighborhood would seem like any other up-and-coming pocket of Brooklyn. It’s the warehouses that are the key to Gowanus’ future.

Gowanus is up for grabs. Real estate developers, artists, local pioneering residents and owners of the warehouses each want a piece of the neighborhood for their own use. This has created a pull for the future of Gowanus. Artists want to keep it as is, with affordable studio spaces and a bohemian air. Residents want to maintain its character as a quiet place in Brooklyn, and land owners are looking to sell their underutilized properties to the highest bidder: often developers, who want to build lucrative, luxury condominiums. Each group has their own vision for Gowanus. Each believe it to be the best one for the neighborhood and are vying for control of the warehouses.

In 1860, the Gowanus Canal was created by the city and became the main waterway of Brooklyn. In the years that followed, the surrounding land was used for industrial activity with factories and warehouses cropping up. The industrial sector grew to include steel mills, knitting factories, gas plants and coal yards. The American Can Company, T.E. Conklin Brass & Co. and the Metropolitan Gas Light Company were just a few businesses that made their homes in Gowanus. According to the EPA, these types of companies eventually contaminated the waterway and the canal became a pool of chemicals and pollutants. In the 1960s, industry started to decline in New York, leaving many Gowanus warehouses abandoned or home to new blue-collar businesses.

Gentrification hit the area in the early 2000s, when the surrounding neighborhoods of Park Slope and Carroll Gardens became destination points for well-to-do families. According to the Department of City Planning, in 1999 the median family income of the Park Slope/Gowanus border was $26,000 vs. a median family income of $88,000 in 2009. Gowanus was the only neighborhood that remained untouched because of the polluted canal. However, it attracted real estate developers hoping to ride the wave of gentrification, seeking to convert the warehouses into luxury condos.

“Gowanus is a great neighborhood, one of Brooklyn’s best. Elsewhere in the area, like Cobble Hill and Brooklyn Heights, you don’t have these large sites available,” said David Von Spreckelsen, senior vice president at Toll Brothers, a builder of luxury homes.

In 2008, the city moved forward with its own plans to clean the canal and to rezone the manufacturing area into a mixed-use one with residential pieces.

However, development plans came to a halt in 2010, when the E.P.A. designated the Gowanus Canal a Superfund site, stalling all new construction until the canal is cleaned. A Superfund is the federal government’s program to clean up the nation’s hazardous waste sites. According to Christos Tsiamis, project manager of the Gowanus Superfund, the canal will be cleaned within 10 to 12 years, leaving the timetable of rezoning unclear. Until the neighborhood is rezoned with a mixed-use designation of residential, commercial and manufacturing, developers have to wait before they can build.

In the interim, many small businesses and artists have taken up residency in the warehouses, a trend that started many years ago, but has blossomed within the last 5 to 10 years. These individuals are able to afford the lower rents compared to other parts of New York.

The Gowanus Studio Space is an artist’s workspace, housed in a warehouse that was once a knitting factory. As business declined, the owner converted the building into commercial loft spaces, renting floors to other businesses. According to Benjamin Cohen, director of the Gowanus Studio Space, one square foot of commercial space in Gowanus costs $1 to rent. In the face of stalled residential development, this is a way for landlords to make a profit on their stagnant properties and for artists to have an affordable place to work. “I want cheap art space and would like more spaces like this,” said Tammy Logan, a local artist.

For other artists, it’s the appreciation of the creative community that has taken root in the neighborhood. “The affordable part is nice, it’s a perk. But the studios in Gowanus make it easier to meet other artists. It’s an area where people can interact with each other,” said local artist, Rachael Whitney, whose previous studio in Sunset Park was isolated.

But, once the rezoning takes place, artists and long-time residents fear that the character of the neighborhood will disappear as residential developers offer a high price for the land.

Josh Young, founder of the Gowanus Ballroom, an exhibition space, also worries that development will mean disaster for Gowanus’ artistic community. “I think in general, the majority of the landowners don’t care about artists’ issues. It’s all about the money,” he said.  To see the neighborhood change from a creative enclave to being filled with luxury condos is what worries the artists. “I hope that it doesn’t turn into Williamsburg. I don’t want it to be too commercial or gentrified,” said Whitney.

However, the price tag that comes with residential development is attractive to land owners. “The city was going to rezone this whole area. If the Superfund didn’t come into existence, we had the air rights to 12 stories here,” said Danny Tinneny, who owns 100,000 square feet of land in Gowanus. “Five years ago what I have here was probably worth $25 million. What’s it worth now? I haven’t got the slightest,” said Tinneny, speaking to the uncertainty the Superfund has created. When possible, property owners, such as Tinneny, would like to sell pieces of their land for residential development, such as the now-defunct Toll Brothers project.

In 2009, Toll Brothers planned to build a residential development on three acres of land in Gowanus. Spreckelsen developed the project. “The opportunity to develop along the bank of the canal, we felt, was an interesting place where people would want to live. A lot of people were interested in buying a unit there. The [warehouse] owners were happy to sell. They recognized the value,” he said.

Toll Brothers went ahead with their development plans until it was killed by the E.P.A., when the E.P.A. took over the cleaning process and prohibited new construction. Toll Brothers never ended up buying the property, as part of the deal to sell was contingent upon rezoning, and once the E.P.A. got involved, this fell through and the land remained with the original owners.

For the foreseeable future, it seems unlikely that residential developers will be interested in Gowanus given its Superfund status. Asked if Toll Brothers would look into the neighborhood again, Spreckelsen said, “I think it’s unlikely. I think it will be quite a few years before things are resolved and cleaned. There is a lot of uncertainty and it’s difficult to develop a condo product when there is a period of uncertainty.”

As of now, the artists are winning the battle for Gowanus, as residential development is all but impossible while the canal is cleaned. “I guess we do have an advantage,” said Whitney.

“With the Superfund business going on it seems to me those artists are going to be safe for quite a long time,” said Spreckelsen. He doesn’t see the benefit of the E.P.A.’s cleaning plan over the city’s shorter one either, which focused on cleaning the water by renovating the flushing tunnel that pumps clean water into the canal. “After the E.P.A. cleans it up, people still won’t be allowed to swim in there or be able to eat the fish they catch. What do you gain? I don’t know. Doesn’t seem like a lot to me,” said Spreckelsen.

But what is gained is time, which is important for the individuals who would like to keep Gowanus as an artist and commercial community. “I’m relieved that the Superfund happened. It’s slowed down the development process and people are revisiting how the area should change and are incorporating the artistic/historical aspect into that,” said Sasha Chavchavadze, founder of Proteus Gowanus, an interdisciplinary gallery.

Buddy Scotto, who has lived in the area since 1928, has witnessed this change in the neighborhood. “There are many different small groups of people beating the drum for their own point of view,” he said.

Only time will tell which group wins out, or if they can all come to a compromise to shape Gowanus into a unique neighborhood of artists, commercial space, and new residential development, all the while maintaining some of the old industrial charm that made it such a fascinating place.