Every day is Earth Day at 475, but this year, the team wanted to do something extra in observance. To us, Earth Day is a chance to be mindful of your impact on a local and global level, and a day to not only take action for the environment but to take action in your community. We partnered with our neighbors at the Gowanus Canal Conservancy to do a small scale building project. They planned for a structure to serve as both shelter and a small-scale water catchment system in a soon-to-be-lush plot of land toward the north of the canal. One of the biggest sources of pollution in urban waterways today is rainwater runoff, so not only will this catchment system provide a sustainable source of water for a budding waterfront garden, it will also divert rainwater that would otherwise flood and pollute the canal.
For those who may not be familiar with this Brooklyn Superfund site, we’re taking the opportunity to touch on the history of the canal and the work of the Conservancy:
“On 22 April 1970, millions of people took to the streets to protest the negative impacts of 150 years of industrial development”, writes Earth Day Network President Kathleen Rogers. A generation of industrial pollution winds through the neighborhood 475 calls home, while the fight to clean it up has lasted decades.
Construction of the Gowanus Canal was completed in 1869. As Brooklyn grew and began to compete with New York City, factories, shipyards, and manufacturing plants began popping up along the Canal. It was common practice throughout the 19th and 20th century for these industries to dispose of their raw waste directly into the canal. These practices lead to extreme pollution in the Gowanus Canal, which, despite several remediation efforts, was recognized as one of the most polluted bodies of water in the US in 1990. As the surrounding neighborhoods shift from well-worn industrial areas to vibrant, mixed-use communities, environmental restoration efforts have been rekindled. The canal and surrounding waterfront were designated a Superfund site in 2009 and since then, many clean-up initiatives have started in the area.
The Gowanus Canal Conservancy was founded in 2006 and has been the environmental steward of the neighborhood since its inception. Last Friday, we put our collective building knowledge to good use and headed down to the banks of the Gowanus to help the Gowanus Canal Conservancy build a rainwater catchment system.
As I’m sure you can see in the photos, we had a great time volunteering on a sunny spring day. If you’re in Brooklyn, swing by the canal to see the ongoing improvements to the developing waterfront and consider showing your support by attending the Gowanus Canal Conservancy Spring Gala this week!
The climate crisis can feel like an insurmountable issue when looked at globally, but every small action you take on a local level is making a difference. Not every gesture needs to be felt on a global or national scale, maybe you reduce the emissions from your house by making it airtight, or make a public space safer and more accessible for people in your neighborhood. No matter where you are in the world, we encourage you to take whatever actions you can this Earth Day to promote a healthy, sustainable future!