Would you play in a park underground? This artist's rendering shows a deep underground park that could be created in a 116-year-old abandoned trolley terminal below the Lower East Side. At left, how it appears now (AP photos / The Lowline)
Would you play in a park underground?
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Visitors from around the world are drawn to New York City's High Line, an elevated park built on defunct railroad tracks transformed into an urban sanctuary of flowers, grass and trees.

Private planners inspired by the High Line's success are now looking deep under Manhattan with a proposal to create the Lowline, billed as the world's first underground park.

The project would occupy a 116-year-old abandoned trolley terminal below the Lower East Side that's been used for storage since 1948.

Street-level solar collectors would be used to filter the sun about 20 feet down to bedrock, turning the dank, subterranean space into a luminous, plant-filled oasis. The park would offer city residents a place of refuge and host art exhibits, music performances, readings and children's activities.

The Lowline is only one part of a Lower East Side revitalization project.

The neighborhood has an important place in the history of immigration. At the turn of the last century, newly arriving Italian, Irish and German families made their first homes in America in its tenements.

"Many people once fought to move out of the Lower East Side, and now, their grandkids are fighting to get in," says Mark Miller, an art gallery owner whose family ran businesses there since the late 19th century. "It's come full circle; it's hip, happening and historic."

"We're simply taking over a space no one was using in a densely populated neighborhood that lacks sufficient public space," says Dan Barasch, who specializes in promoting socially innovative applications of technology.

He co-founded the nonprofit Lowline project with architect James Ramsey, a former NASA engineer. The park is expected to cost about $60 million in mostly private funds, plus some government money. More than $1 million has been raised for research and design.

Ramsey and Barasch got the idea for the project when they heard about the site that was once a trolley turnaround for the line that ran across the Williamsburg Bridge to Brooklyn.

"We'd already been playing with new solar technology," Barasch said. "And we fell more and more in love with the idea of this public space, so we put those two concepts together."

Barasch estimates it will take about five years before construction begins to transform the 1-acre leftover from the past into a destination of the future.

First, he says the Lowline team of three, plus hundreds of volunteers, must tackle some technical challenges: exactly how to channel the natural sunlight from the collectors to the park below, using the latest optics. Then a way must be found to position the sunlight so it allows plants to grow.

Several high-tech companies already have used such systems to funnel natural illumination to previously light-inaccessible areas.

"But you can't just cut the street open," says Barasch.

Community members had their own questions at a Lowline presentation. Some asked where the street-level entrances would be, how the space would be ventilated and what kinds of plants would be brought in.

The pioneer model for the Lowline is the High Line park on Manhattan's West Side. The 22-block aerial walkway on an abandoned freight route has galvanized a neighborhood where luxury condos, galleries and boutiques have all but pushed out the industrial grime of warehouses and manufacturing plants.

Not everyone is thrilled with the idea.

Kerri Culhane, associate director of Two Bridges Neighborhood Council, says the project will draw real estate investors while alienating longtime residents.

Barasch counters that such revenue would allow the park to be self-sustained and not reliant on government funds.

Critical thinking challenge: Why is natural sunlight essential to this project?

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COMMENTS (25)
  • devonm-3
    12/03/2014 - 02:30 a.m.

    A new and exotic park will soon be built in New York. The first of its kind, an underground park. It will house trees, grases and places for kids to play. The park will be built underground in an old abandoned trolley terminal in the Lower East Side. There will be solar heating so plants can grow and people can feel real sunlight. The park will also have concerts, activities for young ones and once in awhile an art gallirey. The park will cost about 60 million dollars and will be a pretty big upkeep. This idea seems super cool and unique. I would love to visit it and see if the park really does feel like your outside. New York is so crowded it would be nice to have a place to relax aside from all the loud taxis and crowded streets.

  • ttravillion-Cla
    12/03/2014 - 11:43 a.m.

    I think natural sunlight is essential to this project because the plants and such have to grow. I think its also essential to this project because it gives you the feeling of being outside.

  • kbryant-Cla
    12/03/2014 - 11:44 a.m.

    Yes, I would play in a park underground. This is something unique and modern, and very different that many kids and adults would probably be really into for the future.

  • ljordan-Cla
    12/03/2014 - 11:53 a.m.

    that will be cool because yu will never see a underground park before and to see that happen the world will go crazy over that

  • aknight-Cla
    12/03/2014 - 11:55 a.m.

    I think this is amazing how they built a park underground and I think that they should do this more often and they should do this for more states

  • ttaylor-Cla
    12/03/2014 - 11:56 a.m.

    this is creative. I think this could be the best topic for playgrounds and parks around the world. the person with that idea is smart.

  • MikaylaStazewski-Ste
    12/03/2014 - 12:33 p.m.

    I would absolutely play in a park underground, especially the one up in the picture above. It looks so fascinating. This is one of the coolest things ever.

  • TehyaWhite-Ste
    12/03/2014 - 01:06 p.m.

    This is such a cool idea because it gives people to go even when it s raining. However, natural sunlight is essential because all of the plants and things that are being put in this underground playground.

  • NashMcComsey-Ste
    12/03/2014 - 01:14 p.m.

    A novel idea for an attraction. I find it funny, however, that New York City is known for it's skyscrapers, because of the enormous population density. It seems they've grown tired of going up in the city, and have started to choose to go down.

  • TaylorHartman-Ste
    12/03/2014 - 01:30 p.m.

    I never knew about this underground place and I would definitely be interested in visiting it. I'm not sure on how safe it would be for younger children, but I would really want to go see it.

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