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An Underground Park on NYC's Lower East Side


We plan to transform an abandoned New York City trolley terminal into a vibrant community green space using new solar technology. - Dan Barasch

Kickstarter about the project:


What is the LowLine?

We want to transform an abandoned trolley terminal on the Lower East Side of Manhattan into the world’s first underground park. It will be a new kind of public space, using solar technology for natural illumination, and cutting edge design to capture and highlight a very special industrial space.

A park… underground?!?

Ever wonder why there's so little green space in New York? There aren’t a lot of empty plots of land just waiting to be turned into new parks. New Yorkers have had to be a little more creative, and must look in unusual places – the High Line, a park built on an old elevated rail trestle, is a great example.

A few years ago, we learned about a massive unused former trolley terminal in our neighborhood, the Lower East Side. We got to thinking: what if we could build a park-- underground-- even if the space lacked natural sunlight? So we explored using fiber optic cables to transfer sunlight below ground-- to support the growth of plants and trees. As we shared this idea with others, people got excited. "An underground High Line for the Lower East Side," they'd say. "Kind of like... a LowLine." The nickname stuck.

What is the space like?

This "Delancey Underground" space is quite large, by New York standards: 60,000 square feet, or 1.5 acres -- nearly the size of Gramercy Park. It was built in 1903 as a trolley terminal, for streetcars traveling over the Williamsburg Bridge, and has been out of operation since 1948. We fell in love with the site because of its architectural details: old cobblestones, crisscrossing rail tracks, vaulted 20-foot ceilings, and strong steel columns.

Here's what's even more exciting: it's in the heart of the Lower East Side. Our neighborhood is one of the oldest in the U.S., and has been home to generations of immigrants for centuries. It is a center of diversity, culture, creativity, and innovation.

Let the Sun Shine… Underground

To build this park, we're planning to use a cutting-edge version of existing technology-- which we've already built in prototype. The system uses a system of optics to gather sunlight, concentrate it, and reflect it below ground, where it is dispersed by a solar distributor dish embedded in the ceiling. The light irrigated underground will carry the necessary wavelengths to support photosynthesis-- meaning we can grow plants, trees, and grasses underground. The cables block harmful UV rays that cause sunburn, so you can leave the SPF-45 at home. Sunglasses optional (for cool kids).

What kind of a park is underground?

An awesome one.

We think a year-round public space will be valuable for everyone. Farmers markets and vendor stands can feature fresh produce and locally made goods, supporting local and sustainable businesses. Art installations, concerts, and performances can help showcase the incredible creative spirit of the Lower East Side. Youth programming and educational opportunities can offer rich experiences for kids and parents. And a safe haven from the hectic feel of Delancey Street will serve as relief in a very car-centric corner of Manhattan.

When it's really cold, or pouring rain, how much fun is it to hang out in Central Park? The High Line? Not so much. The LowLine can be the 21st century answer to traditional parks: instead of building up, let's build down!

What we've done so far

We first presented this idea to our local community board in September, and have been overwhelmed with public interest ever since. We got some great press, from CNN to the New York Times to the Huffington Post.

We’ve spoken with the MTA – the State-run Metropolitan Transit Authority, which owns the site – about this idea. The MTA was receptive; they are eager to turn the space into something new. But it’s now our job to prove that the idea could work and would be popular.

We’ve met with neighborhood business groups, who are excited about a new magnet for the Lower East Side. We’ve talked with elected officials and community representatives about how we can gain access to the site and start building a park.

We’ve spent the last year refining the solar technology, building an initial prototype to demonstrate how it works and planning for a large-scale demo later this year.

We've also teamed up with HR&A -- the firm that originally helped demonstrate the potential positive impact of the High Line -- and are working closely with them to refine our analysis and economic model for the park.

What we need to do next

Now we need to build a full-scale installation-- a "mini LowLine"-- so people can see this with their own eyes. And we need $100,000 to build it. This tech demo will be an invaluable tool in helping convince our community, potential funders, the City, and the MTA that this idea can work. It will also help us refine the technology so we get it perfect once it’s time to build the real thing. We’re planning on installing the mockup in the Essex Street Market, an indoor public space in our neighborhood.

In addition to raising this money, we’re also beginning the feasibility study that will help build the economic case for the park, and will put us on even better footing with the MTA, the City, and our neighbors. We’re also busy doing outreach to business owners and residents to find out what our neighbors would like to see in this new space.[1]
  1. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/855802805/lowline-an-underground-park-on-nycs-lower-east-sid