Meet Andy Simons, chairman of the Gowanus Canal Conservancy (GCC), who is leading the way on the grassroots, on-the-ground level, producing real change while the city and state fight over a comprehensive canal clean up that could take decades to complete.
“The canal was a significant historical engine for Brooklyn and it should be maintained,” said Simons, who takes a long-term view on the project and said he often reminds area concerned residents it will take time to revitalize the neighborhood. “We’ve always told people this is a 20-year project. This isn’t going to happen tomorrow.”
It may not, but that’s no excuse for sitting by idly while the canal continues to fester, said Simons. He helped found GCC when the city first began drawing up plans to redevelop the neighborhood around the canal. Today the group is an influential environmental and preservation voice for the area that holds out door festivals, stages street clean ups around the canal.
Most importantly, said Simon, GCC has developed innovative plans for a sustainable remediation and redevelopment of the area that are drawing citywide and national attention.
The group’s Sponge Park plan, to build a public space and esplanade around the canal complete with a water filtration system, has won awards from the American Society of Landscape Architects. Simons said GCC’s Sponge Park plan, still in a conceptual phase, has also received support from the city and state.
Originally from Pittsburgh, Simons is an environmental graphic designer by trade whose DUMBO design firm, emphasis design, produced the lighting and interpretative signage at the base of the Brooklyn bridge welcoming tourists from Manhattan and around the world to the borough of kings.
Simon said he became involved with efforts to restore the canal after buying a home near the notoriously foul-smelling waterway. “I’ve always volunteered for different non-profits and community groups,” said Simons, who also served for many years as a mentor at the High School of Art and Design, but after moving within range of the canal it quickly became clear environmental activism’s where it’s at.
“What I’ve gotten out of this is a wonderful ability to be involved in the community,” said Simon, “and see what community activism and democracy do and how they can work together.”