/ 13 April 2012

All high hopes for Low Line

The world’s first underground park moved a step closer to reality last weekend with the closure of a public funding drive for an innovative design proposal.

A plan to build the Low Line, a vast subterranean public space in New York’s Lower East Side, has attracted donations totalling more than $150 000 on the funding website Kickstarter since February 22.

The deadline closed with the initial $100 000 target easily surpassed. By far the most pledges were for between $10 and $50.

Dan Barasch and James Ramsey will now be able to get to work on the first stage of the Low Line: a scale model of the park, constructed in an abandoned warehouse steps away from the underground location.

“We’re delighted that we’ve been able to get a significant amount of online enthusiasm for the idea,” Barasch said. “If you look closely at that campaign, it’s more than 3 000 individual supporters.”

The idea for the Low Line came after Ramsey, a New York-based designer, learnt about New York’s underground spaces from a Metropolitan Transport Authority employee. “There are 13 acres of this kind of space underground that are unused,” Barasch said. “One of the more interesting locations was a trolley terminal that transit people would know about, but the average person wouldn’t.”

The underground space is a 1.5 acre terminal built in 1903 for trolley trains to shuttle passengers between Brooklyn and Manhattan across the newly opened Williamsburg bridge.

When the trolley service ended in 1948 the terminal closed and it has lain dormant since.

The name for the park came from another innovative New York public space, the High Line, a 1.6km-long stretch of disused elevated railroad turned into a park.

With no natural light, the underground terminal in the Lower East Side may not seem the most natural location for what Barasch and Ramsey hope will become a “year-round public space”, supporting farmers’ markets, concerts and art installations. But the Low Line will rely on fiber-optic cables to transfer sunlight below ground.

The system will capture and concentrate sunlight above ground before beaming it into the park below, with the design proposal promising that the light will even “carry the necessary wavelengths to support photosynthesis”, meaning that plantlife can flourish below ground.

The lease to the underground terminal is owned by the Metropolitan Transit Authority, which manages public transport in New York. The money raised through Kickstarter will be used to build a small-scale model of the park, opening in September, in the disused Essex Street Market in the Lower East Side, in a bid to demonstrate to the authority that the idea for the Low Line can work. “The effort is really geared towards building a business model that the authority will find attractive financially,” said Barasch.

With regard to how long it will take before city dwellers can relax in the underground park, he is hopeful that the Low Line could open this decade. —