New York City's "Sponge Park": An International Model for Mitigating Combined Sewer Overflows?

Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn (New York City)

Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn (New York City)

Where the Community will see Green Infrastructure in Action

One of the United States’ most polluted bodies of water is about to receive a much needed make-over: construction has begun on a pollution-preventing greenscape that will run alongside Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal. The project, dubbed Sponge Park, was envisioned more than five years ago by Susannah Drake of dlandstudio and has “soaked up” enough funds to move forward.

Historical Context

The 1.8 mile long Gowanus Canal was created in the mid-late 1800s on the site of a former saltmarsh and creek and has seen its fair share of environmental issues. For years, it has captured raw sewage waste from adjacent residential neighborhoods, industrial waste products from the businesses located along its banks, and polluted surface run off.

At the same time, the canal is dotted with structures and bridges that celebrate its important industrial history and is home to egrets, cormorants, and other forms of wildlife.  Currently, the area is filled with small industries, businesses, homes and artists’ studios and is slated for rezoning by New York City. In 2010 it was granted Superfund status.

New York City has a combined sewer system. During storm events, rain falling within the Bergen watershed enters the storm drains and mixes with raw sewage in the sanitary sewer system. During heavy rainfalls, the combined sewage and stormwater overflow directly into the Gowanus Canal, discharging over 1.1 million cubic meters of combined sewage.

Courtesy of dlandstudio

Courtesy of dlandstudio

A Park to Sop Up Pollutants Before They Flow Into the Gowanus Canal

“At the foot of Second Street in Brooklyn, hard by the Gowanus Canal, is a tiny green space with a very big job,” wrote Lisa Foderaro in an article published in the New York Times.

“Aptly called Sponge Park, the 2,100-square-foot plot will…intercept thousands of gallons of storm water, along with pollutants like heavy metals and dog waste, before they can enter the canal.”

Susanah Drake_landscape architect_120pThe article features the work of Susannah C. Drake, a landscape architect and founding principal of the firm which designed Sponge Park.  She has trademarked the name Sponge Park, in the hope that it can be replicated elsewhere.

“I didn’t want to go into a community and tell them that I’m putting a wetland in their backyard. That wouldn’t fly. But everyone understands what a sponge does, even if they don’t understand green infrastructure or phytoremediation.”

“Sponge Park will provide a space where people can see green infrastructure in action,” said  Andrea Parker, the executive director of the Gowanus Canal Conservancy,

To Learn More:

To download and read the complete story, click on A Park to Sop Up Pollutants Before They Flow Into the Gowanus Canal

Courtesy United States Environmental Protection Agency

Courtesy United States Environmental Protection Agency