NYC Has The Highline, And Soon It Will Get A Lowline

Dan Barasch and James Ramsey first conceived of the Lowline, an underground greenspace the size of a football field that will soon be installed in a former trolley terminal in New York City, in early 2012. The former terminal, which was abandoned in 1948, will incorporate technology that harvests sunlight above-ground and directs it into this subterranean garden below the bustling hub of Delancey Street on the Lower East Side. Once fully initiated, the duo’s planned renovations will result in an underground garden that can thrive even in the winter.

Two years ago I went to an underground mock up of what was being offered as the prototype for NYC’s forthcoming Lowline– a smaller version of the underground park that the Lowline Lab (the group that is testing the viability of the idea in various hubs around Manhattan) continues to organize. The Kickstarter-funded initiative includes testing the effectiveness of the solar technology that the group is sourcing from South Korea in order to observe how plants will thrive underground during the rougher months of the year.

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“We believe that New Yorkers need a public space that is beautiful and available all year round—not just the 4-5 months a year when the weather is nice enough to spend time outdoors,” Lowline director of community, Robyn Shapiro, told Vice.

When I called Robyn last week, she was enthusiastic about the Lowline technology lab’s vision of the future. Currently, the Lowline is looking to finance 6 months of research in a new technology lab that would be temporarily installed around the corner from where the Lowline would be built. The aim of the initiative, in Shapiro’s words, is “to show the powers that be that the Lowline’s proposed technology really does work” while amassing more research on how and where the underground park’s solar collectors would be placed. Their Kickstarter fund, which runs through July 8, has nearly reached its $200,000 goal as of this writing– but they still need to raise a few thousand dollars more.

If the Kickstarter is successful– and if the team’s research proves fruitful– the Lowline would be built in the course of about five years, with plans for a grand entrance on Delancey for which city reps as high up as the national level have expressed overwhelming support.

“Ultimately, the Lowline’s botany will be a reflection of what grows above ground,” Shapiro tells me. “It’s a 1:1 scenario. We’re not using photovoltaic technology to generate energy underground; we’re just trying to channel sunlight underground.”

Shapiro and her team are currently in talks with New York City’s transit authority, the MTA (who currently maintain jurisdiction over the abandoned Delancey trolley station where the Lowline would be built), but she tells me that once built the Lowline would likely be handed over and maintained in partnership with the city, whose people are the real benefactors.

Below, watch Dan Barasch’s TED Talk explaining his aim for the Lowline project in the forthcoming months. If successful, New York City will soon be home to the first solar-powered underground park in the world.

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