Introduction

Axis: a partnership; the central part about which a network is arranged.
Civitas: citizenship, especially as imparting shared responsibility, a common purpose, and sense of community.

Gowanus by Design presents its third international design competition, “Axis Civitas.” The two-component competition asks participants to first map and present conditions relevant to the Gowanus area in a Gowanus Atlas and second to use that analysis as the basis for their design of a Gowanus Urban Field Station that is open to the public. The Atlas, a collective mapping of the watershed surrounding the canal, will be a planning tool and local resource supported by the Field Station to facilitate the community's grassroots collaboration in the continuing evolution of the neighborhood.

Purpose

Despite being a poster child for the negative impact of 19th and 20th century industry and resulting toxic waterway, the Gowanus neighborhood today offers a rich diversity of uses, demographics, history, and opportunity for growth. The Gowanus Atlas will synthesize the area’s underlying characteristics, positive and negative, and visually explain in the Field Station how complex urban and ecological conditions can be assessed for their impact on 21st century planning strategies. It is the goal of GbD to not only aggregate, collect, and distribute content specific to the area, but also to reveal the conditions that define the area in Brooklyn known as “Gowanus” and influence its evolution. With an abundance of community voices with shared and diverging opinions on what is best for the area’s future, participants are also encouraged to reach out to local community groups (see Resources) to learn how their goals fit within the larger context of a shifting urban context and how they can be represented.

With the recent start of construction for a 700-unit residential building and a nearby large parole center for the Department of Correction on the banks of the canal less than two years after Hurricane Sandy, the Environmental Protection Agency’s [EPA] announcement last year of a ten-year clean up plan for the Superfund site, and the Department of Environmental Protection's Long Term Control Plan to reduce Combined Sewer Overflows [CSOs] in the watershed, the community has been forced to grapple with the conflicting impacts of hazardous subsurface conditions, private development, agency oversight, CSOs, and global warming. The competition is a reaction to these forces and is intended to address the lack of a coherent sustainable urban strategy for this area of Brooklyn.