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Floating Landscapes to Clean
and Adorn Polluted Waterways

Also Used to Grow Food

Like a green roof, floating landscapes are a new way to bring much needed environmental benefits to underutilized spaces within cities.

Brooklyn's Gowanus Canal, one of the most polluted bodies of water in the U.S., has a new feature that not only visually enhances the canal, it acts as sponges that filter and clean water and provide wildlife habitats: a floating landscape.

Balmori Associates, a New York based international landscape and urban design firm, and the Gowanus Canal Conservancy, a community-based non-profit organization that serves as the environmental steward for the Gowanus Canal Watershed, funded the project through a $20,000 grant received from the Cornelia & Michael Bessie Foundation. Balmori then designed and fabricated the floating infrastructure, which is one in a series of this type of work by them.

One other benefit of floating infrastructures is that they can adapt to and address rising seas.

Once a hub for maritime and commercial activity, the Gowanus Canal has captured industrial waste products from factories located along its banks; and during heavy storms, combined sewer overflows bring not only stormwater to the canal but also untreated human and industrial waste, toxic materials, and debris.

The floating landscape, named GrowOnUs, transforms metal culvert pipe into planters. These are the same pipes used to bring the polluted runoff and sewage waste to the canal. Each of the 54 "test tubes" isolate different experiments in plants (over 30 plants selected for phytoremediation and natural dye production), various watering conditions (clean water through phytoremediation, desalinated canal brackish water through evaporation and condensation, and collected rainwater), as well as a variety of buoyant construction materials (coconut fibers, bamboo, mycelium, and matrix of recycled plastic.)

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

Diana Balmori, one of the principals of the project said, "We have pioneered floating landscapes. We now want to learn what can make these floating structures financially sustainable. Dr Michael Balick at the New York Botanical Garden suggested we grow herbs, low maintenance crops that can give a financial return given their price per volume. In a few years NYC restaurants may be serving meals and drinks infused with herbs grown on one of these islands."

More information can be found at

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May 19, 2019, 8:30 am PDT

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