An Underground Park: The Proposed "Low Line" Project

Published on Sep 26, 2011


The Delancey Underground--or, the "Low Line"--would be a unique underground park which would benefit both residents and businesses in the Lower East Side. But, just how does one build a park underground?

If a trio of "urbanist ­entrepreneurs"--architect James Ramsey, PopTech executive Dan Barasch, and money manager R. Boykin Curry IV--have their way, residents of Lower East Side apartments will be enjoying a new neighbor in the near future, a two-acre park complete with promenades on which to stroll, lawns on which to lie, seating on which to relax and read. Perfect right? The catch, of course, is this: the park will be completely underground, beneath the bustling streets of the Lower East Side (specifically, Delancey Street from approximately Clinton to Essex Streets).

This underground park would be housed in a vast and for-decades-disused trolley terminal where the Williamsburg Bridge trolleys once turned around as they ferried ye olde New Yorkers back and forth from Brooklyn to Manhattan. It might sound crazy... but, then, so did the idea of transforming a long-abandoned elevated railway into a park, until it turned into one of New York City's most popular destinations--the High Line.


Ramsey, Barasch, and Curry are calling the concept the Delancey Underground (website here), though it was immediately and inevitably dubbed the Low Line, and last week they submitted initial drawings and engineering ideas to Community Board 3, the first of many steps to getting it turned into a reality.

Among the hurdles the Delancey Underground faces before it can start delighting Lower East side residents is finding financing; the MTA, which owns the huge, just-sitting-there trolley station, seems amenable to its development, but won't (or can't) kick in any money.

Also, although the concept drew raves from CB3 members and spectators during the hearing, these first renderings seem a bit sterile and mall-ish for Lower East Side residents to accept, and may require a major rethinking of the design.


And then there's the problem of making the space feel like a park without any access to such seeming basic park requirements as, you know... sun, and sky, and wind. Ramsey, Barasch, and Curry claim to have part of that problem solved, with what they call a “remote skylights,” which would transport sunlight from solar collectors on the Delancey Street median, via fiber optic cables, to a series of vague-sounding "fixtures" below.

I don't really understand how it would work, but Ramsey, who was a NASA engineer before turning to architecture, sums it up this way: “We’re channeling sunlight the way they did in ancient Egyptian tombs, but in a supermodern way.”

Personal skepticism and a long list of challenges aside, we're certainly rooting for the Low Line here at Urban Edge, both for residents of the Lower East Side and for all of us who love it when New York City pulls off cool new stuff that at first seems impossible.

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