Little green houseboat on the Superfund site

Published online: May 25, 2011 News Matt Hickman -
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Yesterday I featured Build Your Block pillows, a collection of cushions from designer Patrick Chirico that encourage couch-side urban planning. Each pillow depicts a different type of residential building commonly found in Brooklyn: the sleek Williamsburg contemporary, the brick 5-story walk-up, the iconic South Brooklyn brownstone, and others. Well, it looks like Chirico forgot to include another type of Kings County dwelling that's been in the news lately: the illegal, off-the-grid houseboat docked in the middle of a toxic Superfund site.

It's news to me, but apparently there's a four vessel-strong community of houseboaters living on the Gowanus Canal, an infamously foul 1.8-mile body of water that was finally designated as a Superfund site in March 2010 after many decades of being an all-around gross (but beloved and somewhat charming) presence in South Brooklyn.

Explains the EPA: As a result of years of discharges, storm water runoff, sewer outflows and industrial pollutants, the Gowanus Canal has become one of the nation's most extensively contaminated water bodies. Contaminants include PCBs, coal tar wastes, heavy metals and volatile organics." The EPA estimates that it will cost about $300 to $500 million to clean it up.
So if cities like Seattle and Amsterdam can have thriving houseboat communities, why can't Brooklyn - even if the moorage is on the ultra-toxic side? Picking up on a recent NY Post article that exposes the "latest hipster attraction" on a "the cancer-causing cesspool" where, if you fall in, the water will "corrode you before you drown," The Huffington Post and other news outlets have zeroed in on one of the Gowanus' decidedly more respectful houseboaters, an environmentalist and "freelance green builder" named Adam Katzman.


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