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?
Lexile

Visitors from around the world are drawn to New York City's High Line. It's 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. It could become the world's first underground park.

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

Street-level solar collectors would be used to filter the sun about 20 feet down to bedrock. That would turn the dank, subterranean space into a luminous, plant-filled oasis. The park would offer city residents a place of refuge. It could 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. 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. He is 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 of the Lowline though.

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 (5)
  • Eric0221-YYCA
    12/03/2014 - 11:05 p.m.

    Wow, some New York people want to build an underground park so the people will want to play in the underground park with real sun light coming from the sky, to the 20 foot dug out bedrock ground which is really cool for me to play there even though we aren't up on the earth's surface, but if we dig more than 20 feet underground, we might find the mantle and magma will flow out in to the underground park and start running for their lives if they don't want to be grilled or overcooked by the magma and be melted by the lava and a volcano eruption will start in New York city and everything will be damaged by the lava which is going to be scary, so the people will have to dig only to 20 feet to bedrock.
    Critical thinking challenge: Why is natural sunlight essential to this project?
    Answer: There has to be natural sunlight so the plants that are growing in the underground park will grow in the sun.

  • SofiaB-2
    12/04/2014 - 09:50 p.m.

    This article talks about an idea or concert an old underground space into a new and modern park, the first of its kind. It will cost an estimated $60 million in private funds to begin making this interesting act of innovation, $1 million has already been raised for research. To create the dark and dank space into a bright area, those who came up this the idea think they should put solar panels on the surface ( where the sun is ) and filter it to the underground space. People once flight to get out of this area, now the younger generation is fighting to get back in to create this modern park. I think it's interesting that they would use solar panels, not just large "natural" looking lights.

    • AlysiaL-mai
      12/08/2014 - 06:12 p.m.

      I agree that it is pretty cool that they use solar panels instead of lights and plus is better to do it with solar panels.

  • AlysiaL-mai
    12/08/2014 - 06:09 p.m.

    Sunlight is essential to this project because in order for plants to grow like in a real park they need sunlight. An also for natural light.


    I enjoyed this article because to me it seems cool how they are going to build an underground park.I would have never guessed that it cost 4 million dollars to build a park and how immagrants passed through a trolley tunnel and the fact that we were able to preserved it for so long.

  • okathryn-dav
    4/20/2017 - 10:54 p.m.

    In response to " Would you play in a park underground." Yes I would play in a park underground. One reason is because it would be different from the parks we ave above ground. The second reason is because it would be out of the heat of the sun.The third reason is because people used abandoned train station as a place to build a park instead of taking up land above the ground. Even though having a park underground is a bit inconvenient I still think it is a good idea.

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