Living large along a glimmering canal isn’t just for Venetians, folks. In the formerly industrial neighborhood tucked between Park Slope and Carroll Gardens, Gowanus has charms aplenty. And the waterway is just the beginning. “Some people think the neighborhood is under the radar. However, it has been having a moment — for a long time,” says 17-year Gowanus resident Shii Ann Huang, a licensed associate real estate broker for Compass’ Shii Ann Huang Team. With median asking rents of $3,123 and median asking sales prices of $1.6 million as of October 2021, Gowanus is a worthy splurge. (Especially compared to Brooklyn’s median rent price of $2,600 and sales price of $948,000 according to the StreetEasy Data Dashboard.) Here is everything you need to know about Gowanus before you go-go.
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Gowanus, Brooklyn’s History
Just call it Ye Olde Gowanus. The neighborhood is named after “Gouwane” (translation: the sleeper), a member of the area’s indigenous Canarsee tribe. Thanks to its marshy meadowlands, it made a prime spot for Dutch grist mills in the 1600s—so prime it became the first Dutch settlement in all of Brooklyn. By the mid-1800s, the humble Gowanus creek was transformed into a canal to support the industrial revolution, with bountiful factories like tanneries and paper mills springing up along its bank. Now that the Gowanus neighborhood is a plummy residential area, those former warehouses provide an element of “cool” that can’t be newly recreated today.
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What’s The Deal With the Gowanus Canal?
As of this writing, 2022 is a big year for Gowanus. That’s when the Environmental Protection Agency anticipated they would complete dredging the upper Gowanus Canal. That’s right: because of its industrial history, the 100-foot-wide Gowanus Canal is a Superfund Site, which isn’t (ahem) super fun. The good news is the contaminated sediment is being dredged fast; some 35,000 cubic yards of it went by buh-bye in October 2021.
“People who don’t really know about Gowanus think of it as a polluted industrial site, but it’s not that,” Huang says. “It’s a cool mix of industrial buildings and low-rise buildings, and for now, it has beautiful light.” Not to mention the perks of the water itself, including the Gowanus Dredgers Canoe Club, which will happily show you how to row-row-row your boat gently down the stream. “Gowanus has cool activities,” Huang says. “And the canal is quite pretty at sunset and sunrise.”
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Living in Gowanus
“What I love about Gowanus is that its sort of the sleepy, artistic cousin between Park Slope and Carroll Gardens,” Huang says. Ringed by Fourth Avenue to the East, the Gowanus Expressway to the south, Bond Street to the West, and Wyckoff Street to the North, the neighborhood is beloved for its low-scale architecture that lends a 19th-century feel. (Most buildings flanking the canal are six stories or less.) Huang says one major perk is the local Whole Foods, but says parking in the neighborhood can be precious — to the tune of $450 or $500 per month to rent a slot for your car in some Gowanus luxury buildings. There is currently no ferry from Gowanus into Manhattan, but you can get to Midtown in around 30 zippy minutes via the N or D train from Union St.
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Parks & Green Spaces
Truth: Gowanus is not known for its lush and leafy parks, though the city is working on it. And organizations like the Gowanus Tree Network are planting and caring for trees to create a “healthy urban forest.” Bill Caleo, a Brooklyn-based developer and builder who is co-founder of The Brooklyn Home Company, sees big, green things on the horizon. “When the Canal is cleaned up, we truly believe the area will be the next great public park area in New York City,” he says.
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What To Do in Gowanus
“Fun in Gowanus for me would be to spend time at Brooklyn Boulders with my kids doing some amateur rock climbing, eating ice cream at Ample Hills, or enjoying barbecue at Pig Beach or Dinosaur BBQ,” Caleo says. The best pie place is here too, Huang says — Four & Twenty Blackbirds, run by a pair of sisters. It’s the place to pick up lemon chess or salted caramel apple pie on your way home from work.
Gowanus is also a salvaged architectural materials mecca — key if you’re looking to upgrade your space with a timeworn wood mantel or old subway tile. “Some of it closed during the pandemic, but you can definitely along 9th street find cool architectural salvage shops,” Huang says. “The commercial, industrial elements of Gowanus are one of the things that makes it cool. You can have your neighborhood restaurants and pottery throwing place and a welding shop—it’s all here.”
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