This work is part of Common Build, an umbrella initiative; learn more about it here.


    A light installation to inform Gowanus residents about water quality of the Gowanus canal.

    GLOwanus light installation, 2023. Photo: Cameron Blaylock


    GLOwanus is a public art project designed to inform Gowanus residents about water quality in the Gowanus Canal. When GLOwanus flashes, it’s signaling that untreated wastewater is polluting or has recently polluted the Canal. 

    The recent rezoning of Gowanus will bring approximately 20,000 new residents to the neighborhood, yet the local water management system is already past its capacity. The Gowanus Canal is a site for Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) which requires new sewage containment plants to be built around the canal. But in the years before these are completed, a shift needs to occur in public education, awareness, and participation around water quality issues.

    Designed by Brooklyn-based artists Manav Singla and Ridima Jain, GLOwanus is a small lantern that cycles through different colors when the Gowanus Canal is under a City-issued waterbody advisory — meaning there’s a good chance CSO has recently spilled or may soon spill into the Canal. Placed in homes and businesses near the Canal, GLOwanus alerts people to this serious environmental issue. Using less water in your home or business, especially immediately before and during rainstorms, is one way to help reduce the level of CSO.

    The GLOwanus team is led by Gowanus residents Francesca Bastianini and Steven Koller, two fellows from Van Alen Institute’s Neighborhood Design Fellowship program with continued support from Van Alen. They’ve built on their experience in the fellowship to develop the GLOwanus light installation, paired with an information campaign with tips on how to help prevent CSO and hold authorities accountable for the Canal’s cleanup.

    Currently, our storefront windows are displaying information about CSO with illustrations by Martha Hall— stop by to learn more about this issue.

    To request a GLOwanus light installation for your home or business, fill out this form.

    GLOwanus lamps are programmed by an open source code developed by Stuart Lynn.


    For questions about GLOwanus, contact:

    Andrew Brown

    Director of Programs

    What is CSO?

    CSO, or Combined Sewer Overflow, occurs when New York City’s water management system is overwhelmed by rainwater. To learn more about CSO and how this project hopes to raise awareness within the Gowanus community, we spoke with Steven Koller, a Neighborhood Design Fellow and an Environmental Science and Policy PhD student at The University of Miami. He explained:

    “New York City has a combined water management system, partially due to the fact that it’s quite an old system. 60% of the city’s water management is combined, meaning that when you flush the toilet, take a shower, or wash your dishes, all of that water gets combined into the same pipe as the water that’s flowing off the street via grates. Most of the time, that’s not an issue. But when you have a rain event — and it doesn’t need to be a big one — the system gets overloaded.

    “And this water is normally tied to a wastewater treatment plant, of which there are quite a few around the city. But during these rain events, the system can’t pump it all to the wastewater treatment plant. And so it’s released to roughly 700 outfall points around the city in all five boroughs, including at the head of the Gowanus Canal at Butler Street. On average, the canal receives roughly 270 million gallons of CSO annually.”


    Apr – May 2022

    Community Workshops

    Residents and students from Gowanus will learn about how water works through natural systems and city infrastructure to impact our daily lives, and how they might impact our lives in the future. Participants learn how to advocate for change through a better understanding of the problem, knowledge of where they can have an individual impact and where they have an impact at the community level.

    Oct – Dec 2022

    Installation Prototype

    Van Alen Institute will exhibit a prototype of the light installation in our storefront windows at 303 Bond Street.

    Jan – Dec 2023

    Community-Wide Installation

    The light installations will be distributed to residents and businesses in the Gowanus community, raising awareness of water quality throughout the neighborhood.

    Who We’re Working With


    Open Sewer Atlas: Independently-run map that uses data from New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection (NYC DEP) to show where and how much CSO occurs at various outfalls around the city

    Combined Sewer Overflows: NYC DEP’s primer on CSOs, including individual actions that can be taken to reduce CSO

    Waterbody Advisories: NYC DEP’s real-time, site-specific info about water quality, largely driven by CSO events

    Gowanus Rezoning Environment Impact Statement, Water and Sewer chapter: Detailed information on how the rezoning and Superfund cleanup actions will impact future CSO

    Neighborhood Design Fellowship: Gowanus

    Gowanus residents work toward the future they imagine for their community.