In past years Gowanus by Design (GbD) sponsored a series of design competitions to solicit visionary solutions for the neighborhood’s social and physical needs. Now GbD undertakes a more concrete project, The Gowanus Atlas. The Atlas is an analytical community planning tool that will visualize and give voice to the complex urban, ecological, and sociological issues facing this culturally diverse neighborhood as it undergoes rapid change.

The Atlas project is an outgrowth of the 2013 competition Axis Civitas, that challenged designers to map the Gowanus Canal area  -- to fashion an Atlas of their own for it -- and build a Field Station to house the resource, a space that would also serve as a center for community organization and activism.

There’s no way that a conventional geographic map can correctly describe the Gowanus. The land surrounding the canal is home to a rich diversity of cultures, uses, architectures, and topographies. As one moves through the streets, lot by lot, the character of the neighborhood shifts, yielding surprising juxtapositions. A buzzing coffee shop is only steps away from a campus of abandoned, graffiti-covered factory buildings.  A stately limestone mansion faces a mammoth brick warehouse. A modern apartment block rises above an industrial sliding steel bridge.

And wherever one moves within the neighborhood, one remains within feet of the Canal, which ties these blocks directly to the bay and to the world beyond. The Canal’s industrial sites, now nestled within the residential micro-communities, commercial strips, and transportation hubs that rose up around them, give the place its unique structure and character.

Compiling the Atlas is a way to understand the neighborhood’s complex life, and the first step in responsible and inspired planning. The Atlas will compile data that is physical (topography, water levels), ecological (noise levels, air quality), legal (lot lines, ownership, zoning), demographic (population age, languages spoken, trades practiced), social (food resources, health services, transportation use), and even more ephemeral (scents, sightlines, safety). It’s an entirely transparent project, authored by multiple authorities, open to all, and subject to continual addition, refinement and reconsideration. Taken together, its layered data sets will shape a truthful portrait of the community to better guide planners, designers and developers.

Most immediately the Atlas will inspire, fostering an image of the Gowanus community as it might be: diverse, dynamic, convenient, welcoming, and protective. And years from now the Atlas will serve as a historical document, mapping the neighborhood’s social and physical movement through these years of dramatic, dynamic growth.

• To support our Gowanus Atlas project, please click HERE.