In a city that’s notoriously fast-paced and overcrowded, Dan Barasch has a vision — to create the world’s first underground green space beneath the hustle and bustle of New York City’s Lower East Side. Mr. Barasch is the Lowline’s founder and frontman; he has previously worked for Google, Pop Tech and the New York City government. His vision is to make the world more ‘beautiful, interesting, and just’, starting with NYC. Barasch partnered with James Ramsey of RAAD Studio in 2009 and has since expanded his team to include architects Kibum Park and Sangyun Han, engineer Ed Jacobs and Director of Community Robyn Shapiro.
The Lowline was inspired in part by the experiences of Barasch’s grandmother, a long-time resident of the neighborhood where the park is being developed. An Italian immigrant, Dan Barasch’s grandmother arrived in Manhattan at the age of five. Her generation worked to build the city up and out, whereas Barasch’s generation, without room for expansion, focuses instead on reclaiming existing space with cutting-edge design solutions. With the Lowline, Barasch aims to rediscover the shared history of the community in an innovative, integrated and utilitarian way.
New York City has only two-thirds of the green space per resident enjoyed by some of the world’s other large cities, and the Lower East Side has only a tenth. The Lowline would solve this densely populated neighborhood’s ongoing struggle to access sufficient public space. All over New York and in other metropolitan areas around the world, we can see green spaces springing up in surprising areas; a natural space developed underground was a logical next step.
Barasch’s project aims to transform the Williamsburg Bridge Trolley Terminal, abandoned since 1948. Located just below Delancey and Essex Streets, the terminal still features its original 20-foot vaulted ceilings and historic cobblestone floors. This one-acre cavern has been sitting, unused, just below the hustle and bustle of New York City’s streets, in an area that remains one of the most densely-packed in the city.
The Lowline aims to provide the community with a similar concept to New York City’s prized High Line; an elevated park spanning 22 blocks along the Hudson River. The High Line was built on defunct railroad tracks, transforming the abandoned space into an urban sanctuary of flowers, grasses, trees and sculpture. Barasch’s plan is rather to draw natural sunlight underground using innovative solar technology, allowing plants and trees to grow in the process. The images of the proposed finished project were released in 2011 and display the technical demonstrations of the solar canopies, which feature solar collectives that channel the sunlight from above.
This stunning underground park will provide a beautiful expanse as well as a cultural attraction within one of the world’s most dense, upbeat urban environments. It strives to introduce cutting-edge solar technology and design, while simultaneously highlighting and respecting the historic elements of the old trolley terminal. It intends to produce an entirely live green space below ground, and has drawn the interest of design enthusiasts from all over the world. Barasch claims that this project is entirely community-focused, with the aim of providing locals with an extensive area of open space at their fingertips.
The Lowline will feature an iconic entrance, its innovative design creating the impression of the street ‘peeling up’ from the ground, cleverly inviting people to descend into this warm, underground sanctuary. It is estimated to cost around $60 million in private funds, with some additional public support. So far, over $1 million has been raised towards the project’s research and design.
Due to open in 2018, the Lowline will provide a prime display of how technology can transform our cities in the 21st century. In March 2015 the project held an exhibition titled ‘Shaping the Lowline’ at Mark Miller Gallery. The event showcased imaginative work from the newest class of young designers, displayed for the purposes of greater community input. The ‘Lowline Lab’ is due to launch between September and February 2015, offering a free community gathering space that displays cutting-edge solar technology.
If it successfully overcomes obvious challenges such as public safety, flooding and occupation by homeless residents, the Lowline could open up a whole new realm of underground opportunities on a global scale. Subterranean parks could one day become the norm within every large city and the spaces could also be used effectively for the provision of food as well as natural refuge.
By Polly Rider