Could the Underground "Low Line" Be New York's Next Great Park?

Under Delancey Street in New York City's Lower East Side, an abandoned trolley station lies unused since 1948. Following the transformation of a former elevated railroad track into the now famous High Line park, Dan Barasch and James Ramsey have put together a proposal to make the empty space into an underground park: the Delancey Underground.

How It Would Work

It's normal for your first reaction to be, "huh?" But if Barasch and Ramsey can pull it off, it could bypass the High Line and Central Park as the top dog in New York's park system. The idea is to use innovative solar technology to create the impression of sunlight coming through skylights where there aren't any.

Ramsey first thought of the idea of the "low line" while working on solar redirection technology, when he heard that there were a dozen or so abandoned spaces like this around New York City. He saw the implementation of his work there as a natural fit. It's a "fairly simple concept," he told me.

An above ground optical system concentrates sunlight and redirects it using tubes and fiber optic cables. Not only does it feel like sunlight, it's enough to support photosynthesis, meaning you can have real plants.

The Competition

But unlike the old railway that is now the High Line, the trolley station is not forgotten or slated for demolition. In fact, the Metropolitan Transit Authority owns the lot and, hopeful for much needed additional revenue, wants to open it to commercial development. The space is adjacent to an active subway station and next door to an above ground lot slated for development.

In a video pitch, Peter Hine of the MTA's real estate department launches a call for ideas for commercial development, suggesting a nightclub or restaurant, recreational facility and retail area as examples.

A Workable Solution

Although it would be easy to paint the issue as a clear battle between "parks, good" and "moneyed interests, bad," Barasch says it would be a mistake to imagine a conflict between the MTA and him and Ramsey. He also points out that while a park would not generate revenue itself, it would be an economic boon to the Lower East Side.

An underground park with natural sunlight would draw visitors and tourists, people who would spend time and money in the area, supporting local businesses. To support his view, the High Line had generated $2 billion in private investment around the park as of this summer.

The key might be to make sure the MTA can draw revenue from the park. Considering its perennially precarious financial situation, I'm sure many New Yorkers would rather see an underground Walmart than another round of service cuts and fare hikes. Either way, the MTA is not accepting requests for proposals just yet.

In the meantime, Ramsey and Barasch plan to keep working on drumming up support and funding form local businesses and community members, and to be ready with a compelling proposal when the MTA is ready to hear it.

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Could the Underground "Low Line" Be New York's Next Great Park?
Two New Yorkers have put forward a proposal to make an underground lot into a park (with real sunlight).

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