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New Hipster Trend: Living on Houseboats on Brooklyn’s Toxic Gowanus Canal

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By HVnews on May 17, 2011

Hard up for a place to live in the hip, hip borough of Brooklyn? Why not consider the lovely river of solid sewage and scenic abandoned factories that is the Gowanus Canal?

Four houseboat residents have landed in hot smelly water for living on the polluted Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, NY because of a lack of licenses and concern over their safety.

The 1.8-mile-long canal is currently undergoing a $500 million Superfund, super-fun clean-up. The EPA has issued a warning for the canal, saying that boaters should take extreme care not to fall into the canal because the water may cause cancer.

The canal is lined with both houses and abandoned factories that leave the canal less then picturesque. At various times raw sewage has been pumped directly into the canal, leaving it extremely dirty and toxic.

Not much is known about three of the residents except what can be heard from neighbors. According to the NY Post:“Three of the houseboats, occupied by hipster 20-somethings, are docked behind a truck lot off President and Bond streets. Neighbors said they’re known for late-night canal parties and pretty girls sunbathing on the decks.”

We’re not sure what sorts of people would decide their idea of a good time was to hang out on a canal that smelled like sewage, but it apparently has some sort of draw. The Gowanus is adjacent to the hipster havens of Red Hook and Park Slope, so unusual seems to be par for the course.

In addition, there’s a fourth houseboat docked several blocks away inhabited by Adam Katzman, a self-described environmentalist. His life is much different from the partying and sunbathing that the other houseboat residents do. He collects rainwater for drinking, uses solar panels for electricity and uses a composting septic system.

A website called Back to Nature NYC made a short film about his houseboat and the lifestyle he’s chosen to live. You can view it here:

While Katzman is currently calling the Gowanus home, it’s likely that it won’t remain that way for long. Due to pressure from the city, he says he is likely to relocate in the near future to a marina in Far Rockaway, Queens that is more supportive of artistic boat projects like his.

The city has said that the boaters could face fines for docking illegally, in spite of all of the houseboats having permission from the property owners of the places they’re docked.

City officials have also cited the lack of fire department and building inspections as reasons why the homes would be considered illegitimate.

If you want to see how charming a place this is to live, check out this video taken by a nearby resident last year:

We’re not sure why anyone would actually choose to live here, but they must know the risks that come from it. Brooklyn is an expensive place to live, and if these people need to save some money by living on a river of raw sewage, maybe the city should let them.

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