TreeHugger has covered the proposed “Low Line” in New York City since it was first proposed. Alex Davies described it as a sort of underground park lit by fiber optics that would be an “answer to the lack of green spaces in the area.” I personally thought it was a dumb idea; just as there used to be a Bilbao effect, there is also a High Line effect, where everyone tries to take some abandoned industrial artifact, hire a big name designer and turn it into an attraction. Here is was even more blatantly imitative: “High Line? cool, let’s build a Low Line.” Puleeze.
Alexandra Lange didn’t think much of it either, but as this silly idea gets closer to reality, she notes that she isn’t mad at it anymore. Writing in Curbed, she also reiterates that this is no park.
There is something undeniably dystopian about the idea that a neighborhood starved for open space might find its solution in a tunnel and yet, when I ask for their pitch for city funding, that’s their first answer."The value to the city of New York is that the Lowline will be first and foremost a community amenity that provides parks equity for the up to 200,000 Lower East Siders living in a neighborhood underrepresented in terms of green space per resident," says [promoter] Barasch.
She notes that “As public space, even public amenity, the Lowline shrinks expectations about what a city should provide for its citizens, particularly the smallest.” That "High style, high maintenance, low square footage "parks" serve the least number of people with the highest number of regulations."
Lange tries to define what it actually is:
The closest I can come to a definition is a mouthful: a high-tech eco-tainment crossed with multi-purpose community center with a science and gardening focus. That’s a new kind of space, but I don’t think an overburdened public agency like the Parks Department (one potential freeholder) should spread its budget to accommodate this program.
For years on TreeHugger we have promoted taking back the streets, ending the domination of the car in our urban fabric. If Google imagery is up to date, the surface around this Low Line park is made of six lanes of cars
running by a series of parking lots [parking lots are now construction sites]. Why not take back the streets and the parking lots and make that a real park with real natural light? Why not fix the ground plane instead of going underground?
Streetcar infrastructure can be converted into wonderful spaces; in Toronto, streetcar repair barns of about the same vintage were turned into the Wychwood barns, a fabulous multifunction facility that is now the heart of the neighbourhood.
But as Alexandra Lange notes, The Low Line is not a park. It is not even a line. It is an empty streetcar station that might, as has been suggested, make a nice dance club. Like the Wychwood barns in Toronto, it could be interesting and useful space. But calling it a park demeans the word. We shouldn’t even think about giving cars all the fresh air and sunlight while relegating people to basements.