When we first heard about the underground New York City park called the Low Line last year, it was not much more than a brilliant idea and some provocative CAD renderings. Now fast-forward eight months and this ambitious project has really gathered steam, and is well on its way to becoming more than a pipe dream. The subterranean park, if constructed, would occupy an abandoned train track below Delancey Street in New York City’s historic Lower East Side neighborhood, and would bring greenery into a crowded, dense neighborhood that is generally lacking in both public space and green space. The futuristic idea utilizes sunlight transportation technology, and repurposes nearly 2 acres of wasted space in an abandoned trolley terminal that has been unused for 60 years. Hot off an extremely successful Kickstarter campaign, and an exhibit showcasing their idea at the Mark Miller Gallery, James Ramsey and Dan Barasch recently sat down with Inhabitat’s Editor-in-Chief, Jill Fehrenbacher, to talk about the Low Line, their progress so far to making it a reality, and the incredible response they’ve received from all over the globe. Watch the video above or read below to learn more about what could become New York’s next design landmark!
Inhabitat: What inspired the Low Line?
Dan Barasch: When we found out about this incredible space underground the Delancey and Essex Street station in New York City, we learned that it is this massive location about 1.5 acres in size — 60,000 square feet — and it formerly fucntioned as a trolley terminal that was used for streetcars back when the city used streetcars to get people over the Williamsburg Bridge. When we learned about the space, we got this incredible idea to create a new kind of urban park, where the community could come for free all year round and enjoy plants, trees, grasses, etcetera.
James Ramsey: Our proposal is actually, if you wanna strip it down to its barest elements, to clean up this space and introduce natural light. About three years ago I started experimenting with solar irrigation technology. The studies that we’ve undertaken indicate that we can actually channel light down below to provide the right kind of light, and enough light, to actually grow plants.
Inhabitat: Can you describe how the technology works?
James Ramsey: The basic concept behind this kind of technique is an ancient one, and one that’s been done in many, many different ways. At its essence this technology involves concentrating natural daylight and then channeling that through a tube or fiber cable down to a super-concentrated bead that then redistributes that light at the end target. By inverting the way we’ve collected it, we’re able to create a simulation of a skylight.
Dan Barasch: This obviously would not be a tropical rainforest, but a big part of this is working very closely with some of the world’s best landscape architects and some of the best designers. We hope this can also be something that will inspire both New York City and other cities around the world to look at their underground spaces in different ways.
Inhabitat: So, what do you actually foresee going in this space? How are people going to use it?
Dan Barasch: So once we build and preserve this space for public use, that’s where we start getting into really fun ideas for what could happen down there. We’re talking very closely with the community about what they would use the space for; things like the opportunity to bring young people into the space, retail opportunities, as well as the ability to showcase some of the art and music that make the Lower East Side so incredible.
One thing that we’re very proud of is that we’ve worked with and have received the official endorsement of the Lower East Side Business Improvement District. I think what that symbolizes is that the business community in the Lower East Side sees this as a potential magnet for people who would come down to the Lower East Side for a whole host of reasons. This could also be a source of pride for the neighborhood and for the community.
Inhabitat: Why do you think the Lower East Side needs a project like this?
James Ramsey:This particular pocket of the Lower East Side is one of the richest cultural pockets in the country, and it’s where most of our grandparents first lived when they came to this country. At the same time, it’s a neighborhood that has been sort of historically overlooked by planners and the powers that be. The idea that we can actually reclaim this space via the use of technology, and to create a community amenity for one that’s historically been overlooked, really, is something that’s been very powerful to me and that resonates with the idea of actually beginning to stitch back together a tear in the urban fabric.
Inhabitat: So this project is so awesome – we really want to see it come to fruition. What do you guys need to make this happen?
James Ramsey: This is a very ambitious project and a very complex undertaking, so we need all the support we can get. We need financial support so we can do all our engineering studies and create our proposal, and we need just grassroots support. We need to actually build enthusiasm, and we want people to be vocal to their leaders, to the local politicians, etcetera. We want to build a movement to create nothing less than a landmark for the Lower East Side.
Inhabitat: What kind of reaction are you getting for this project from the community?
James Ramsey: The reaction that we’ve gotten not only in New York, but around the world, really, has been overwhelmingly enthusiastic and positive. I think in a lot of ways we are hitting on some sort of cultural nerve. New York City’s the city I was born in; it is the city that I love, and there’s this idea that it’s an infinite city with so many layers of complexity. I think the underground spaces of New York — these lost underground spaces — are just another thing that hints to us here’s just more to the surface of this city than you might see at first glance. Something about that is currently resonating culturally, and it’s something that I think not only I, but a lot of people find interesting.