The Gowanus area has been an active center of industrial and shipping activity since the 1860s. It is zoned for light to mid-level manufacturing (M1, M2, and M3).
Recently, residential developers have been hindered by the industrial zoning and the problems of the sewage overflow through the canal water, but there have been rumors of rezoning by the New York City Department of City Planning.
The water and much of the land along the banks of the Gowanus Canal have been severely polluted from a combination of CSO's (combined sewer outflows) along the canal designed to relieve sewage and storm water when the sewer treatment plant is overwhelmed as well as from decades of industrial use and extensive coal gas manufacturing during the late 19th century. The Gowanus Canal was also an alleged Mafia dumping ground.
The elevated Gowanus Expressway runs through the southern edge of the neighborhood, crossing the canal at Hamilton Avenue.
The Carroll Street bridge is the oldest of the four remaining retractable bridges in the country. It was built in 1889. Also, in the early 1980s an old nineteenth century munitions factory at 230 3rd Street in Gowanus became the site of the massive Gowanus Memorial Artyard, the remains of which can still be seen today.