We’re living in an age of extremely ambitious urban technology. Floating pools that filter dirty river water. Artificial eco-habitats. And even green parks that sit under cities, nourished by actual sunlight literally piped down from above.
The Lowline, formally known as the Delancey Underground, is a proposal for the world’s first underground park in the New York City borough of Manhattan that would be located under the eastbound roadway of Delancey Street on the Lower East Side, adjacent to the Essex Street station (J M Z trains).
Co-founders James Ramsey and Dan Barasch have suggested natural light would be directed below ground using fiber optics—described in the proposed plan as “remote skylights” to provide an area in which trees and grass could be grown beneath the city streets.
Light collectors would be placed at ground level, with suggested locations, including the median on Delancey Street. Artificial lighting would be used to supplement the redirect sunlight, and at night and when the sun is obscured by clouds.
New York is getting a crowdfunded, sunlit underground park (Image: lowline.org)

The area, with ceilings 20 feet (6.1 m) high, extends three blocks east from Essex Street to Clinton Street and was used until 1948 as a station and balloon loop for streetcarscrossing the Williamsburg Bridge to and from Brooklyn.  R. Boykin Curry IV is the third urban entrepreneur behind the proposal.

The Lowline is a plan to use innovative solar technology to illuminate an historic trolley terminal on the Lower East Side of New York City. Our vision is a stunning underground park, providing a beautiful respite and a cultural attraction in one of the world’s most dense, exciting urban environments.

The Site

The proposed location is the one-acre former Williamsburg Bridge Trolley Terminal, just below Delancey Street on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The site was opened in 1908 for trolley passengers, but has been unused since 1948 when trolley service was discontinued. Despite six decades of neglect, the space still retains some incredible features, like remnant cobblestones, crisscrossing rail tracks and vaulted ceilings. It is also directly adjacent to the existing JMZ subway track at the Essex Street subway stop– so park visitors and subway riders would interact daily. This hidden historic site is located in one of the least green areas of New York City— presenting a unique opportunity to reclaim unused space for public good.
Delancey old Trolley Station NYC (Image: lowline.org)
Delancey old Trolley Station NYC (Image: lowline.org)

The Technology
Designed by James Ramsey of Raad Studio, the proposed solar technology involves the creation of a “remote skylight.” In this approach, sunlight passes through a glass shield above the parabolic collector, and is reflected and gathered at one focal point, and directed underground. Sunlight is transmitted onto a reflective surface on the distributor dish underground, transmitting that sunlight into the space. This technology would transmit the necessary wavelengths of light to support photosynthesis, enabling plants and trees to grow. During periods of sunlight, electricity would not be necessary to light the space. In September 2012, the Lowline team built a full scale prototype of the technology in an abandoned warehouse in the Lower East Side, for the “Imagining the Lowline” exhibit. The exhibit attracted thousands of visitors, was heavily covered by the press and ultimately served as a proof of concept.
How This Underground Park Is Piping In Real, Live Sunshine (Image: lowline.org)

The Vision
Inspired to use technology to improve the lives of city residents, by creating more of the green space we all need. The Lowline aims to build a new kind of public space— one that highlights the historic elements of a former trolley terminal while introducing cutting-edge solar technology and design, enabling plants and trees to grow underground.

To explore our vision in greater detail, we commissioned a preliminary planning study with Arup, the global engineering firm, and HR&A Advisors, a leading real estate, economic development and energy-efficiency consulting firm. The study concluded that the Lowline was not merely technically feasible, but would also vastly improve the local economy and the adjacent transit hub. Once built, the Lowline would be a dynamic cultural space, featuring a diversity of community programming and youth activities.

We envision not merely a new public space, but an innovative display of how technology can transform our cities in the 21st century. And along the way, we intend to draw the community into the design process itself, empowering a new generation of Lower East Siders to help build a new bright spot in our dense urban environment.

The Lowline team is now working out how to pipe real, grass-nourishing sunlight into the depths of a 112-year-old cavern. (Image: lowline.org)
The Lowline team is now working out how to pipe real, grass-nourishing sunlight into the depths of a 112-year-old cavern. (Image: lowline.org)

The “Lowline Timeline”

In 1908, the one-acre Williamsburg Bridge trolley terminal opens on Delancey Street, transporting passengers from the Lower East Side to Brooklyn. After just four decades of use, the trolley terminal is closed to the public, and would never again have any official transit use, despite its adjacency to the J/M/A subway line.

The Lower East Side remains a remarkably diverse neighborhood, due to a mix of public housing and former tenements, and home to immigrants, small businesses, and artists. Delancey Street is widened for high volume car traffic, and becomes one of the least safe streets for pedestrians and local residents.

James Ramsey, owner of Lower East Side design firm Raad Studio, is introduced to the forgotten Williamsburg trolley terminal and he hatches a plan to install solar technology in the site, enabling plants and trees to grow. Dan Barasch is separately exploring a project to install underground art in the New York City subway system. The two friends chat one night over too much wine, and agree to explore the idea of an “underground park” in earnest.

James Ramsey and Dan Barasch release the concept of the Lowline to the public in a highly visibleNew York Magazine feature. New Yorkers and the world at large are fascinated by the idea that an underground park is possible.

February 2012
The team launches a Kickstarter campaign that raises over $155,000 from 3,300 supporters from all over the world— creating a new record for the largest number of supporters for an urban design project on the platform. A community is born.

Summer 2012
The Lowline commissions two planning studies, one from HR&A Advisors and one from Arup, to assess the viability of building a public park in the former trolley terminal. Both studies provide solid evidence that the idea can be transformed into reality.

September 2012
Team Lowline installs a functioning full-scale model of the solar technology and accompanying green park in an abandoned warehouse directly above the actual site. The exhibit was attended by over 11,000 visitors in just two weeks, serving as proof of concept for the ambitious project.

April 2013
The Lowline conducts its first in-school program with local high school students, designed to engage young people in the process of imagining an underground park and to help design its future uses. This leads to additional youth engagement and design projects with local schools and organizations.

Summer 2013
Nine elected officials send a joint letter to the City showing their support for the Lowline project and encouraging the City to help it progress.

Fall 2013
The Lowline conducts a semester long Young Designers Program with Henry Street Settlement / Boys & Girls Republic, Educational Alliance / SPARC Program and University Settlement / Beacon Program.

Spring 2014
The Lowline has a month long exhibit of the Young Designers work at the Mark Miller Gallery.

March 2015
The Lowline will hold the “Shaping the Lowline” exhibit where work from the newest class of Young Designers will be displayed and the community is invited to provide greater input.

September 2015- February 2016
“The Lowline Lab” will open — a free community gathering space that displays cutting-edge solar technology, serves as a laboratory for lighting and horticulture experiments, and will feature multiple cultural and community events.

The Lowline aims to have completed negotiations with the MTA and the City to build and operate the underground park. After negotiations are finalized, a capital campaign to support construction will be launched.

The Lowline is opened for all to enjoy.

If you want to get involved in this magnificent project go to http://www.thelowline.org/get-involved/lowline-lab/ for more information.



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