The Lowdown on New York’s Proposed “LowLine” Underground Park

Posted by Brendan Brehm on Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012

Concept Drawing for New York's LowLine Park

In a city like New York, where space is limited, creating a new public park can be quite the challenge. It’s not designing the park, or even building it, that’s so difficult; it’s finding a place to put it that’s tricky. This lack of free space, however, hasn’t prevented new parks from popping up in the Big Apple – they’ve just had to be creative in where they build them. We’ve already covered New York’s High Line, a park built along an abandoned elevated railway in Manhattan’s Lower west side, here on entertainmentdesginer.com. So if a park can be built above the city streets why not below them? That’s exactly what the Delancey Underground project is setting out to do with their proposed LowLine park under Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

Just like the High Line, the LowLine will take advantage of an abandoned railway system. In the case of the LowLine, the project’s founders, Dan Barasch and James Ramsey, have their sights set on a former trolley terminal in one of the country’s oldest neighborhoods. Just below Delancey Street lies the 60,000-square-foot Williamsburg trolley terminal, abandoned since 1948. When Ramsey and Barasch first set eyes on the disused trolley station a few years back, they fell in love with the site’s architectural details – old cobblestones, vaulted ceilings, crisscrossing tracks, and steel columns – and decided it would be the perfect place for New York’s next public park.

Drawings for Light Collection System at New York's LowLine Park

The Light Collection System

Of course the first question that jumps out of everyone’s mouth is: why would anyone want to build a park underground? Those who have spent even a brief amount of time on New York’s subway know that it’s dark, dank, and full of rats down there. We’re not sure what they’re planning to do about the rats and other creepy-crawlies, but Ramsey and Barasch have devised a system that will allow them to draw natural light down into the terminal. To light up the park, they propose using an optical system that will gather sunlight from the surface and disperse it underground via solar distributor dishes embedded in the ceiling. They’ve already built and tested a prototype that can transmit enough light to support trees and plants. In addition, this optical system filters out UV rays, so you’ll never have to worry about a sunburn while enjoying the natural light.

Concept Drawing for NewYork's LowLine Underground Park

LowLine Concept Image

One of the key selling points for this park is that, since it’s underground, it could be used comfortably year round. Even during the worst winter storms, residents could go hang out at the LowLine park. There will be much more to do than just hanging out though. According to the LowLine’s Kickstarter proposal, Barasch and Ramsey hope to bring an array of services and entertainment underground, including a farmer’s market, art installations, concerts, and youth programs: all in a space they believe will be “a safe haven from the hectic feel of Delancey Street.”

The Abandoned Williamsburg Trolley Tunnel, Proposed Site for The LowLine

The Abandoned Williamsburg Trolley Tunnel

The LowLine project is quickly gaining momentum and has already raised over $150,000 through Kickstarter. Although the MTA is interested in the project they cannot contribute any funds to it. What Barasch and Ramsey need to do now is prove to the MTA and city officials that their park is feasible. It’s obviously not as easy to imagine as the High Line, which received $20 million in donations, so they will use their first $100,000 to build a “mini LowLine” to showcase their light collection system and the site’s potential. As of now, there is no hinting at how soon we might see this project become a reality; but considering the support the project has received thus far, it might not be long before New Yorkers start spending a lot more time underground.

All Images via DelanceyUnderground.org

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