Gowanus: Brooklyn's Curious Canal

Joseph Alexiou. New York Univ., $29.95 (400p) ISBN 978-1-4798-9294-5
Alexiou, associate editor at Time Out New York, takes a figurative dive into the infamously polluted Gowanus Creek in this engrossing narrative of Brooklyn's development amid shifting economic cycles, waves of immigration, urban decay, and its current renewal. Much of Alexiou's meticulous research is derived from the archives of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle and the Brooklyn Historical Society, and his chronological account runs from the waterway's early days as an inlet for ships transporting goods to Dutch settlers through its heavy manufacturing period and into its later classification as a national Superfund site. The canal itself becomes a character in the story, and Alexiou resurrects nearly forgotten figures such as Edwin Litchfield, the man who turned the creek into a canal, while exhuming incredible details of their personal lives. Among the other notable points of discussion are the shantytowns that grew along the canal, the mid-19th-century gang turf wars between Pointers and Creekers, and the arrival in the mid-1970s of artists and activists who precipitated the area's renewal. Alexiou draws profound and amusing comparisons between the historical Gowanus and the Brooklyn of today as he looks at population, city politics, and the ways humans both rely upon and shortsightedly destroy nature. Photos. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 09/28/2015
Release date: 10/01/2015
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