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Landscape Firm Builds Tiny Floating Gardens to Clean Brooklyn's Highly Polluted Gowanus Canal

A tiny floating garden is working to clean one of the most polluted bodies of water in the United States: Brooklyn's Gowanus Canal.

The project, GrowOnUs, was designed by Balmori Associates, a New York-based international landscape and urban design firm, and was funded by a $20,000 grant from the Cornelia & Michael Bessie Foundation.

"The floating infrastructure is one in a series of projects Balmori has designed to act as sponges that filter and clean water and provide wildlife habitats in the city," Balmori stated in a press release.

GrowOnUs is an experiment in floating infrastructures made up of 30 different types of plants and metal culvert pipes that are transformed into planters, which are made buoyant by eco-friendly materials such as recycled water bottles and bamboo.

Plants in the garden clean the canal water through a process called phytoremediation, a treatment of environmental issues by using plants that mitigate pollutants without having to dispose of them elsewhere. Beneath the garden is a substrate environment for mussels who act as cleaners of the dirty water.

The gardens also serves as a way to test different experiments in plants, various watering conditions and varieties of buoyant construction materials.

"GrowOnUs will be monitored to study the viability of producing large-scale edible floating landscapes in cities with polluted rivers," Balmori said. "It will also further explore other functions with urban potential as a multi-functional green infrastructure: shoreline protection, bio-diverse habitats, energy production and public space."

Floating landscapes typically exist on edges or underutilized spaces within the city, similar to green roofs or linear parks.

"Floating islands are a model of the interface and transitions between the river, the landscape and the city. The social and ecological benefits to a network of floating landscapes are immense and plentiful," Balmori said.