I’ve Been Fascinated With This NYC Project For Years And It’s Closer Than Ever To Actually Happening

by joeheg

I’m fascinated by project announcements, particularly ones in Manhattan because they tend to be bigger and more grandiose than ones you’ll find anywhere else. I also like looking back and see what actually gets built in comparison to what was initially planned. For this reason, I’ve been following the development of the corner of Times Square, including the moving of the Palace Theater, to become TSX Broadway, which is set to open in 2022.

While that’s a huge undertaking, it’s just another big building in New York. There’s another project I’ve been following since it was proposed in 2012. Step by step, it’s been moving through the development phases, but now it looks like it might actually happen.

And I’m fascinated with the idea.

The LowLine


I remember back in 2012, seeing a Kickstarter funding page for a seemingly impossible project.

We plan to transform an abandoned New York City trolley terminal into a vibrant community green space using new solar technology.

An underground park. Crazy, right?

The plan, as they described it, was to use real sunlight through solar technology to create a park on the site of the abandoned Williamsburg Bridge Trolley Terminal in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. In its heyday, the station was the turn-around point for the trolleys. It had eight loops, one for each line ending at the station. With the end of trolley cars being used in New York, the station has been closed since 1948.


The terminal, which is roughly the size of a football field, has been sitting abandoned for over 70 years, adjacent to a subway station. Not exactly the place I’d be looking to build a park but you gotta give it to people who shoot for the stars.


The 2012 Kickstarter was successful, raising over $155,000 (of its $100,000 goal). With the money, they built a “proof of concept” fully functioning full-scale model of solar technology in a warehouse near the proposed site of the park. showing how it was possible to get sunlight to underground spaces.


In 2015, another Kickstarter was launched with higher goals. They raised $223,000 to build the “LowLine Lab.” The Lab, which opened in October 2015 in a 10,000 square foot windowless warehouse, stayed open until February 2017.

It was dubbed as “a free community gathering space that displays cutting-edge solar technology, serves as a laboratory for lighting and horticulture experiments, and features multiple cultural and community events.” It was open for 17 months and over 100,000 people from across New York City and around the world visited.


With the information learned, the team is now working on scaling up to transform the terminal into a park. In an interview from 2017 with Next City, the lead designer, Jack Barasch, has this to say about the Lowline Lab.

“We were primarily interested in seeing if our solar technology design could effectively deliver natural sunlight into dark space at an intensity that would support plants and trees,” Barasch says. “We had over 3,000 plants and most did extraordinarily well. We were even able to grow a variety of edible plants. Strawberries, mint and herbs.”

“We know our solar technology does indeed work to illuminate the underground space,” says Barasch. “The next stage of our research is whether we can do this technically at scale and in a much more complex urban environment.”


Final Thoughts

The idea of using technology to turn an abandoned underground space into a park really fascinates me. I’m hopeful that the project actually comes to fruition. I’m sure that when it does, we’ll make a trip downtown to check it out.

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary

1 comment

Craig S. July 31, 2019 - 8:37 pm

I agree it is a fascinating idea, A park would be great in an abandoned underground area but the concept could have limited application around the rest of the world. A city would have to have unused underground terminal space. Where else can we think of which might utilize it – London, Paris, Moscow, Stockholm, Athens, Hong Kong, Beijing? A lot of light would have to introduced in it in order for people to not feel like they were in a tunnel. I have been in the below-ground level of a three story mall and didn’t like the feeling.


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