Gowanus: The Lavender Lake

To the east of the elevated subway station at Smith-9th Sts, in an area surrounded by former industrial blocks, is the gently curving – and highly polluted – Gowanus Canal. Once a creek named after Gouwane, a chief of the indigenous Canarsee people, the canal was for many years used by merchant ships to unload their goods. Unfortunately it was also where local industrial operations unloaded all kinds of untreated waste, leading to a heavy sludge referred to as 'black mayonnaise' collecting along the bottom, and a reddish-purple sheen on the surface that caused locals to give it the nickname 'the Lavender Lake.' The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) declared the canal a Superfund site in 2009. It's currently undergoing a massive clean-up project projected to finish in 2027.

Despite the canal's toxic status, it frequently attracts intrepid urban explorers in search of moody (if not entirely odor-free) waterfront pictures. After rezoning efforts in the 2000s, the low-rent area named for it that stretches north to Baltic St and east to Fourth Ave became home to artists' studios and music venues in large, postindustrial spaces. This led to more restaurants and bars (including one cheekily resurrecting the canal's former moniker), and eventually to new residential developments and a huge branch of the gourmet grocer Whole Foods – making Gowanus one of Brooklyn's most rapidly changing neighborhoods.