Date of Award

Spring 5-12-2016


Environmental Science


Edward Van Buren


Like many environmental issues we face today, the Gowanus Canal began as a hopeful tale. It was envisioned as a promising cargo transportation waterway in Brooklyn, New York. However, due to reckless planning with little thought for the future, the canal slowly began to have a negative effect on its surrounding landscape and community, as well as abandoning its initial purpose, and ultimately sitting stagnant in the neighborhood. Today, the canal is a large environmental problem we face and is in great need of cleanup. The canal is a prime example of a lack of planning and consequential detrimental effects on the surrounding neighborhood and wildlife. The Gowanus issues particularly echo today’s headlines, in light of the shortsighted actions in Flint, Michigan causing long-term harm.

This thesis starts by looking at the current status of the Gowanus canal and its intended purpose. Current events relating to the canal and its detrimental effects are cited. After this, the thesis begins to address the history of the Gowanus canal as a whole and why it was created in the first place. The public opinion towards the canal when it was just built compared to the feelings towards it now are looked at as well as its humble beginning. Then, natural science, more specifically biology and ecology, is used to describe the science behind why the canal has become so detrimental. This discipline is also used to explain the toxicity of the water as well as the wildlife that may attempt to live inside its murky waters. Next, a combination of social as well as natural science is utilized to describe New York City's waste water treatment process and how this relates to the canal and more specifically its overflowing. Political science is then utilized to brainstorm future solutions for the canal and what people of the community can do to help repurpose the area, assist in clean up and advocate for change. Finally, economics is used to discuss the negative and positive economic effects the canal has had on society as well as the significant amount of money that would be needed in an attempt to clean the canal itself. A conclusion is then written to summarize what has been discussed throughout the essay itself.

When discussing the Gowanus canal, sources from online books as well as articles are used. Information from the book “Gowanus: Brooklyn’s Curious Canal”, by Joesph Alexiou is a primary source. Scientific data online is used to give specific information on the toxicity of the canal as well as wildlife living in it. Historical and current events involving the canal are added throughout the thesis to enhance and support my claims on the mysterious canal.