Gowanus? Neighborhood of the Year?!

Gowanus? Neighborhood of the Year?!

By Simon Hunter, Partner, CIO

Where Exactly?

We were awarded a new Carroll Gardens project, an ambitious, high design, highly amenitized apartment development. In Carroll Gardens. Well almost. Looked at another way the site is absolutely at the geographic center of Gowanus. On the canal. The superfund site polluted Gowanus Canal. In Manhattan it seemed so plausible that we could make people believe they were somewhere else, somewhere with a better reputation. On the ground it was quickly clear that wasn’t happening. Before we could market 365 Bond St we needed to address the gorilla in the room. So we embraced the strategic challenge. How do we make our biggest weakness (our neighborhood) into our biggest strength.

So what’s there?

Back then Gowanus held its secrets to itself. Wholefoods was just a twinkle in someone’s eye. Lavender and Lace was a cool bar, there was a neighborhood glass studio, and there was a group passionate about their neighborhood: The Gowanus Dredgers.  They are a kayaking crew that make the canal theirs. Conservation, education, community engagement, and a lot of fun is what they do. (We ended up making a mini-documentary about them.) Once we saw through their eyes we recognized the artsy, eclectic, rough and ready place as a sanctuary from the sterilized gentrification that was encroaching. We were inspired to take a bold approach to creating and activating a brand. We weren’t trying to ‘make’ a place. But to make 365 Bond the focal point of the place.

Emerging from the toxic canal

Celebrating the fabulous reality of Gowanus became a strategic imperative for us. And we refused to whitewash or apologize for anything. So we did it true to Gowanus spirit. We elected the canal monster to be our spokesperson. Enter The Gowilla. An irreverent, crowdsourced, cartoon with its own newssheet that gave the community a voice, and became the easy way for brokers and potential tenants to get to know and love this place. And it didn’t care if you didn’t get it. That just meant that you weren’t meant to live here. Every quarter we produced a new edition. And every quarter something new and cool was coming to the neighborhood.

Making the neighborhood a champion

By the end of our first year , we were ready to start leasing. Ready to have real answers to “What’s it like living here?”.  We are incredibly proud of the strategy, the cool graphic identity, the award winning website and other marketing tools. And of the successful lease up. But somehow our favorite accolade came from Curbed magazine. Although seeded 13th at the beginning of the competition Gowanus was crowned Neighborhood of the Year that year. Our canal monster was the king of the best neighborhood in the whole of New York. Take that Williamsburg, MeatPacking, Sugar Hill, Dumbo….