Photos: The "Imagining the Lowline" exhibit, and the proposed site of the Lowline, Williamsburg Trolley Terminal. Credit: Delancey Underground
In 2011, friends James Ramsey and Dan Barasch decided they would do something yet to ever been done: make an underground park in New York City.
Hence, the Lowline was born — a plan to transform a long-abandoned trolley station beneath Delancey Street in Manhattan into a dreamy retreat from the noise, litter, and clamor of the city above.
A year later, at TEDxEastHampton on Long Island, Dan explained the impetus behind the project and the pair’s journey to making a mini Lowline prototype in Manhattan’s Lower East Side:
"The region that’s bounded by the East Village, Lower East Side, and Chinatown, known as Community Board District 3, [is] one of the least green areas of New York City," Dan says in his talk, "which, in turn, is one of the least green cities among other cities of comparable density.
"…It’s incredibly dense: [the Lower East Side] is an incredibly dense place. There’s a lot of people crammed into a very, very tight space…It is full of concrete and not very green.
How is it possible to think about creating a green space in a crowded city in a particularly crowded corner of New York City like this? We think, actually, that the solution is with technology.”
What technology you might ask? Primarily, something Dan and James call remote skylights. These lights, designed by James and a collaborator named Edward Jacobs, are composed of outdoor sunlight-capturing dishes, which accumulate and then transmit sunlight underground through a system of specially-designed fiber optic cables. Light is then projected onto a giant canopy of hexagonal tiles that line the Lowline’s ceiling, an installation that spreads the light throughout the subterranean park. To maximize sunlight collection, the disks are equipped with GPS tracking systems that follow the path of the sun.
A diagram of the remote skyline system. Source: Inhabitat
"Even underground," a Core77 article on the technology explains, "the light will carry the necessary wavelengths to support photosynthesis for growing plants, trees and grasses underground. And because the cables block the harmful UV rays that cause sunburn, you can leave the SPF-45 at home."
Dan and James hope that this system will provide the means necessary to make the Lowline (and the Lower East Side) a place people want to be. “If anyone’s ever been down to the Delancey Street area,” he says in his talk, “it’s very clear that it’s really quite miserable walking around Delancey Street at the street level. It was never designed for humans — it was designed really as a multi-car expressway…
"[The Lowline] would potentially provide a different kind of passageway and a different walkway and a different kind of experience for people to actually engage [with] and experience the city. "
After raising over $150,000 from a Kickstarter campaign, Dan and James created a faux Lowline in an old warehouse in the Lower East Side — an exhibit they called “Imagining the Lowline.” Above, you can see pictures of the exhibit and of the abandoned trolley station that Dan and James hope the Lowline will someday inhabit.
For more on the story behind the Lowline, watch
Dan Barasch’s entire TEDxEastHampton talk, “Imagining the Lowline.”