New York designers aim to build world’s first underground park

Everyone knows about New York’s famous Central Park, the nearly one-and-a-half square mile strip of green in midtown Manhattan, with over 24,000 trees and 150 acres of lakes and streams. While that may be enough park to sustain many New Yorkers, some residents find the lack of grass a major downside to the city. Unfortunately, NYC doesn’t have a lot of open space for creating new viable parks for visitors and residents to enjoy. 

That hasn’t stopped New Yorkers from getting creative with park placement. In 1999, residents in Manhattan’s westside proposed renovating an abandoned rail line and turning it into a park. They were successful with the campaign and eventually, in 2006, construction began on the park, known as the “High Line.” What’s cool about the High Line is that it’s built on an elevated railway that runs for about 16 blocks, with elevator access and street entrances along the way. 

High Line officially opened for public use in the spring of 2009, with half of the park space completed. In 2011, the rest of the park was finished, however; there are plans to add another 10 or so blocks to the park with construction potentially starting in 2013.

With that project in mind, another group of New Yorkers are planning a similar projected, dubbed the “Low Line” or the Delancey Underground project. Instead of going up, the Low Line is going underground. The Low Line project aims to convert the abandoned Williamsburg Trolley Terminal located beneath Manhattan’s Delancey Street, which opened in 1903, into an underground public space. 

The original terminal was only in use for 45 years, from 1903 to 1948, when streetcar service was discontinued. For the last six decades, the terminal has been mostly unused. The Delancey project aims to revitalize the space by turning it into a park space that includes everything from farmers’ markets to art exhibitions. 

According to the designers, Dan Barasch and James Ramsey, the park will be able to support plants, trees and grasses through the use of solar lighting. Ramsey, of Raad Studio, created solar collectors that would be placed at street level to collect sunlight throughout the day. Using fiber optic cables, the light would be filtered and reflected below ground. They claim that the light emitted would not emit ultraviolet rays, but will still be able to distribute “light wavelengths supporting photosynthesis,” which would allow grass and trees to grow underground.

Delancey Underground aims to change how urban planners think of space and use it within cities while also saving remnant urban infrastructures. For example, the existing J/M/Z subway lines run near the Williamsburg Trolley Terminal and could be connected to the park for visitor and resident access.

At the moment, Low Line is still in its early stages. Baracsh and Ramsey have raised about $155,000 via KickStarter and have political and public support — but it will take some time to get the project approved by the city, a crucial first step to secure further funding and for construction to move forward. 

Check out the Low Line concept video below.