What Matters


The Gowanus Canal has been a polluted site since its conception in the late 1800s. The site has definitely seen its fair share of abuse in the form of industrial and sewage waste. Despite being declared an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Superfund site and $500+ million clean-up estimated to begin next year, the likelihood of it coming to fruition is endangered by the fact that the Trump administration has announced to cut 31% of the EPA’s budget, which would specifically decrease the Superfund program’s budget from about $1.1 billion to $762 million (Gardner, Volcovici).

What’s worse is that not only is the EPA’s budget being drastically reduced and impairing the organization’s ability to enforce guidelines that are in the public’s best interests, but its management structure appears to prioritize economic gains over environmental concerns. The Trump administration’s stance towards relaxing regulations coupled with the fact that the newly appointed head of the EPA has ties to the fossil fuel industry suggests a “business savvy” approach to dealing with problematic ecologies that pose or run the risk of posing serious threats to public health. Guattari and Deleuze note, “The flow of capital produces an immense channel, a quantification of power with immediate ‘quanta,’ where each person profits from the passage of money flow in his or her own way…There is no universal capitalism…It invents its eastern face and western face, and reshapes them both –all for the worst” (20), and imply that profitability drives production. But in industrial monetary endeavors, as seen in the case of Gowanus, unfavorable decisions are made that consequently negatively affect the environment. However, similarly to how the crackdown on such damages presented costly clean-up plans on the parts of the parties responsible for wrecking Superfund sites, eventually (let’s hope sooner rather than later) it will be realized that such consequences make said companies question whether or not their flagrant disregard for the environment in the pursuit of making money was worth it.

Though Gowanus’ remediation efforts run the risk of being stalled, this obstacle also highlights the site’s problematic history of being placed on the back burner. A dumping ground full of hazardous waste has successfully been downplayed as a minimal issue thanks largely to industrial greed. Such capitalist motivations are further echoed in the way that a luxury housing development is being built on the banks of the canal. What’s even more shocking is that people actually want to live in said development and over 56,000 sent in applications in the hopes of being chosen to live in one of the building’s 86 affordable housing units. One would think that living on the banks of one of the most polluted waterways in the nation would come at a lower price tag, but this is not the case as one bedroom apartments start at $3,000/month and prices go up from there. (Albrecht).

This development illustrates how Gowanus has gone largely ignored by the community. Though the PR for these apartments isn’t particularly innovative in terms of persuasion (who wants to kayak in a barf colored, pungent canal anyway?), people seem to not mind or be concerned that they are not allowed to garden because of potential hazards lurking in the soil or the fact that raw sewage still regularly appears in the water. Capitalism wins again in the way that consumer personally chooses to value status over environment and to an extent their long-term health by moving to an up and coming area labeled the “Venice of Brooklyn”, blatantly overlooking the mess that the new building they want to move into so desperately is sitting on. As if the smell of the canal was not enough of a transmission of affect, (Teresa Brennan’s argument of smell’s role in helping people “feel the atmosphere” seems to go unnoticed or maybe many of these people have limited olfactory sense), the theme here seems to be that people trying to move there are too blinded by the hipness and wealth of the neighborhood to do some research on what they would be subjecting themselves to if they lived in this new building.

The real root of the problem arguably appears to be one of transmission of affect. Many people have little to no sense of urgency when it comes to cleaning up Gowanus and why should they? It’s been a toxic hotbed for over a century and it’s less than 2 miles long anyway. And in the grand scheme of things New York is already full of pollution so what is the harm of letting the canal remain stagnant, really? The point is that though steps are in the process of being taken to implement a solution, the administration’s adamant support of industry over environment conflated with the community’s continued ignorance of the issue have the potential to cause serious damage in the future and increase larger clean-up costs the longer action is put off. Gowanus not only matters locally, but nationally as well because such an attitude encourages environmental harm in order to benefit industry and there is only so long that this pattern can be sustained before wreaking havoc on public health. What needs to happen, as per Deleuze and Guattari, is a shift from the industrial habit of “tracing” methods to instead take a more “rhizomatic” or holistic approach by realizing that financial success does not have to come at the expense of the environment or public health.

Works Cited

Albrecht, Leslie. “How Contaminated Land on the Gowanus Became a Luxury Housing Development.” DNAinfo New York. DNAinfo., 03 May 2016. Web. 23 Mar. 2017.

Brennan, Teresa. The Transmission of Affect. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2004. PDF.

Deleuze, Gilles, and Felix Guattari. “Introduction: Rhizome.” A Thousand Plateaus; Capitalism and Schizophrenia, By Gillesdeleuze and Felix Guattari. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota, 1987. 1-25. Print.

Volcovici, Valerie, and Timothy Gardner, and Volcovici, Valerie. “EPA Hit Hardest as Trump Budget Targets Regulations.” Reuters. Thomson Reuters, 16 Mar. 2017. Web. 23 Mar. 2017.










~ by imp249 on March 26, 2017.

3 Responses to “What Matters”

  1. It is the strongest piece. The information about Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Superfund site and the huge clean-up estimate gives powerful evidence of why your ecology matters at this moment of time. The other thing about the shocking apathy of people, which describe so clearly, makes this piece a very important read.

  2. Super well written Ivana—your interest in the issue and its severity comes through in your detailed and thorough research. The inserts of dry humor are endearing but do not take away from the graveness of this pollution issue. You describe the players and the stakes, as well as where the origin of the public’s (and even the local community’s) apathy towards these dangers comes from, which is an important and more macro view of looking at the whole problem.

  3. Hi Ivana, I think your piece is very strong and informative. You have well addressed the changes in contemporary public policies related to this issue. You also provided a great comparison between market justice and environmental justice.

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