Theory Making #2-Affect of Gowanus


Before going to see the Gowanus Canal, I imagined the surrounding area to be relatively deserted and full of crumbling buildings. How else could an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) declared Superfund project location look? In my mind, it had to be pretty desolate in order for a federally funded group to step in and label it hazardous. But, while most of the industry along the canal is no longer there, small businesses and luxury housing developments are moving in. There is a surprising dichotomy between an overused, static resource, and dynamic development growth aimed at transforming the neighborhood. On one side of the canal, an apartment building with a walkway is visible and young people can be seen walking their dogs, and across from it is a bank full of trash. Even more strikingly, there’s a narrow strip of a public “park” at one end that borders a Whole Foods parking lot. One would think that with the amount of construction resources present, more attention would be paid to the glaringly obvious oil and debris tinged water running through the center of it all. The extent of the upkeep appears to be the painting of the bridges that run over the canal in shades of bright blue and teal, however not much, if anything, has been done about what is underneath them as evidenced by the amount aforementioned trash and even a sinking boat.

Though the Gowanus Canal borders some of the most affluent neighborhoods in Brooklyn, it sits stagnant and in confusingly sharp contrast with such wealth in a way that evokes neglect. It feels as though the community has turned a fairly blind eye to the repugnant water and the garbage floating in and adjacent to it. As though reconstructing the residential spaces and businesses will remedy the problems within the canal itself. While Teresa Brennan suggests the powerful role of smell in “feeling the atmosphere” or more broadly assisting in the “transmission of affect”, the rotting energy conveyed by the canal seems as if it goes unnoticed. Though the affect is obviously synesthetic, the attention drawn to it is minimal at best. This is arguably evidenced by the people who live around this unsightly and frankly disgusting body of water because they have let it be this way for so long in a manner that implies they can’t seem to be bothered by it.

Such an incongruous coupling of money and uncleanliness underscores the problem modern society has with keeping in touch with inanimate aspects incorporated within it. But maybe, such an issue could be addressed, as per Brian Massumi, by recognizing “the irreducible alterity of the nonhuman in and through its active connection to the human and vice versa”. If people used Gowanus as lesson to move forward in a way to better perceive the association between themselves and their environment, maybe the EPA’s work could be done in a timelier manner and moreover, encourage activity rather than passivity in seeking out intersections between self and place to prevent these kinds of destruction and dangerous pollution from occurring in the first place. In the case of Gowanus, if methods and outcome had been prioritized over short term profits, the parties being held responsible by the EPA for said pollution would not have to spend an estimated $500 million dollars on remediation efforts that could have been avoided had they been more considerate of their surroundings.


~ by imp249 on February 20, 2017.

One Response to “Theory Making #2-Affect of Gowanus”

  1. Engagement-style: Well-written over all, adds to credibility, with a little bit of insight on personal views, but mostly depersonalized. Continuous contrast between the affluent neighborhood and the polluted canal created an engaging point of contemplation.

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