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


    A light installation to inform Gowanus residents about water quality in the neighborhood.


    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, or 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.

    Our Neighborhood Design Fellows are building on their experience in the fellowship to develop a light installation that will inform the Gowanus community when CSO occurs. They’ll also initiate an information campaign with tips on how to use and conserve water to help prevent CSO, and present ways to hold authorities accountable for the Canal’s cleanup.

    The Fellows will host a series of community workshops, supported by Van Alen, to educate residents about CSO and gather ideas for the installation design. The installation will be prototyped in our storefront windows at 303 Bond Street, and distributed throughout the neighborhood in late 2023. Currently, our storefront windows are displaying information about CSO with illustrations by Martha Hall— stop by to learn more about this important environmental issue.

    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.”

    More About CSO

    Q&A with Steven Koller, Neighborhood Design Fellow

    One of our Gowanus fellows tells us about a new project to increase water quality awareness in the neighborhood.


    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.


    To become a GLOWANUS host and / or comment on the GLOWANUS storefront display at 303 Bond Street, contact:

    Andrew Brown

    Director of Programs