The Gowanus Canal has a logic-defying reputation for being as repulsive as it is enchanting. Tagged with nicknames such as Lavender Lake and Perfume Creek (neither due to lovely hues or pleasant smells), you wouldn’t think much could live in or near this dirty little estuary, which stretches from Gowanus Bay on the New York Harbor to Gowanus, an industrial neighborhood in Brooklyn a mile and a half east.
Yet against all odds, this purple-hued water—used as a virtual toxic dumping ground for industry along it well into the 1960s and beyond—has stolen the hearts and imaginations of people intent on saving it. New developments and shopping centers seem to spring up overnight along the canal. Property values climb despite debates over whether the pollution in this Brooklyn waterway causes asthma. There are documented accounts of fishermen catching striped bass and Atlantic silversides in the murky, badly polluted canal.
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[Originally published in the September 2009 issue of The Leaflet]