The Newtown Pentacle

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Happy 77th Birthday, Gowanus Expressway!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Today is the day that all the children of infinite Brooklyn emerge into the streets and lanes to gambol and celebrate, reveling in a common heritage. October 1st signals to them not just the arrival of “sweater weather,” but also jogs an ancestral memory of the opening of a branch of the House of Moses in South Brooklyn along the fabled Gowanus Canal (Robert Moses, that is). They don’t celebrate the Hamilton Avenue Vampires of course, but… really… who celebrates exsanguinators on the first of October? That’s for the end of the month on Halloween.

The Vampires known to infest this section of the larger Brooklyn Queens Expressway were discussed in two posts from 2017 – “unsigned letter” and “decisive steps.” Read them and take the message of their presence to heart. We’ve got the same problem in Queens Plaza, I’m sorry to say. The City suppresses NYPD statistics on this subject.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The House of Moses landed heavily in South Brooklyn, and stole the sky. It blighted the ground and blocked the emanations of the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself from ever directly warming the pavement set squamously about the Gowanus. As above, so below – automotive traffic is everpresent and flows heavily in these parts. The exigent needs of pedestrians in the area were abrogated, ignored, and arrogantly discarded.

I seem to recall that – sometime in the late 1980’s or early 90’s – a decades long season of deferred maintenance on the elevated Gowanus Expressway resulted in a truck plunging through it to the streets below. Same thing happened in the City, over on the West Side Highway.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Construction on this wonder of the Brooklyn world began in 1939, and the consequences for the neighborhood below were dire. If you lived, or worked, in the pathway chosen by Mr. Moses for his marvel… well… you couldn’t stand in the way of progress. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, and you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs. This was called “progress.”

As a note, this is why I argue about semantics with my political friends when they call themselves “progressives” in the 21st century. I usually refer them to a dictionary, because “progressive” doesn’t actually mean what they think it does. Robert Moses was a progressive.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Gowanus Expressway as viewed from the turgid water of Gowanus Bay, in the shot above. Gowanus Expressway was designed to connect the corridors of Ocean Parkway, Sunset Park, and Bay Ridge with the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. Concurrently built, the Koscisuzcko Bridge over in North Brooklyn was meant to provide egress to extant sections of Queens, notably the new Grand Central Parkway which fed into the Triborough Bridge. Mr. Moses then made the case that it would all be wasted effort were a connecting highway not created between the structures. He called it the Brooklyn Queens Connecting Highway, which, in the years following the Second World War was widened and improved into becoming the Brooklyn Queens Expressway. The BQE was then extended a bit to the south to meet and join with the Belt Parkway, which – coincidentally – also provided an eastern connection to Triborough via the Van Wyck and Interborough Parkways to the Grand Central.

That’s the Hamilton Avenue Bridge just below the Gowanus Expressway, if you’re curious, and it was discussed in this Newtown Pentacle post from 2014.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The sections of Brooklyn found under the Gowanus Expressway, in addition to being lousy with vampires, are pretty horrible. The elevated road drips, it hums, it overshadows and overwhelms. It’s not a pleasant experience either driving or walking down here. All is shadowed by the best intentions of the exigencies of the past.

One of the less salubrious corridors of the “House of Moses,” this.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s especially horrible at night.

Anywho – Happy Birthday Gowanus Expressway, you vampire infested nightmare.


Upcoming Tours and Events

Monday, October 1st, 6:30 p.m. – Infrastructure Creek – with Atlas Obscura.

Join Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman as he leads an exploration of the city’s largest sewer plant, tunnels, draw and truss bridges, rail yards, and a highway that carries 32 million vehicle-trips a year over flowing water.

Tix and more details here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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Written by Mitch Waxman

October 1, 2018 at 1:00 pm

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