The Lowline – Building the world’s first underground park

Urban spaces tend to lack green areas, and it’s difficult to incorporate them into a dense metropolis where they don’t always exist.  But that doesn’t rule out all of the possibilities – the Lowline is a community based non-profit organization that is working to reclaim an abandoned underground historic trolley terminal in New York City and transform it into a beautiful, year-round park through the use of advanced solar technology.  In other words, they’re seeking to build the world’s first underground park in (or rather under) New York City’s historic Lower East Side.

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Over the course of four years, the Lowline team has attracted an extraordinary team of engineers, landscape architects, horticulturists, strategic planners, urbanists, and economic advisors. Their growing Board of Directors and Board of Advisors is composed of innovative leaders from the worlds of science, design, real estate, finance, and urban infrastructure reclamation. Co-founder James Ramsey was first introduced to the trolley terminal site in 2009 through a friend at the MTA, and because of this, James was inspired to design a radical new solar technology system that would shed light and enable trees and plants to grow underground. Around that same time, Dan Barasch was also exploring the city’s underground in search for potential sites for public art projects. In 2010, James and Dan ended up talking about the lack of green space in the Lower East Side green space and it just clicked, why not utilize the underground as a potential solution for this urban problem? So they hatched a plan to build the world’s first underground park and have since been working to make it into a reality. Robyn Shapiro serves as Director of Community for the Lowline, having held previous marketing and communication roles and was even an urban gardener at Eagle Street Rooftop Farms in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

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There are a number of challenges that come with a project of this size and unique scope of technology, but Robyn would say one of the main ones is funding. The Lowline team has found that it can be challenging to request seed funding to develop an idea, where funding the research, the testing, the programming efforts have to come first in order to show the City that they can really build this park. In June, they launched a Kickstarter campaign to inspire organizations and individuals to contribute funds to help open the Lowline Lab this Fall. The Lowline Lab will be a research and community hub constructed in an abandoned warehouse on Essex Street, just blocks from where the future Lowline will be. In addition to the current Kickstarter campaign, they will continue to cultivate individual donors, foundations and sponsorship support, all of which will help them achieve even greater success in making the Lowline a reality. The Lowline team is giving folks the chance to support their campaign with any donation amount they choose via Kickstarter and the opening of the Lowline Lab will help people visualize the landscape design and help better understand the intricacies of their proposed solar technology.

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The Lowline is a community-based NGO start-up, so they don’t have any business competitors. As the team continues their progress in securing the trolley terminal site with the MTA, they will continue to expand community engagement efforts in the Lower East Side and advance their solar technology and landscape design as part of the overall Lowline development. The Lowline team doesn’t necessarily have a target audience, they’re all about making sure people know that the Lowline will be a space for everyone to come experience for themselves. They were inspired to build green space for the neighborhood, and through their current cultural and community programming efforts, the team will continue to keep that promise to the Lowline mission and to the Lower East Side.

The Lowline solution is literally beautiful – they’re working to build the world’s first underground park. The solar technology which they are developing will make underground photosynthesis possible for the first time. They’re also unique as a community-based organization with the goals of creating a technologically innovative public space that builds upon the rich history and cultural resources of New York City’s Lower East Side and providing a platform for in-depth education and youth development. Not only will the Lowline provide the underserved neighborhood with desperately needed green space and offer a vital cultural resource for the city, it will set an international precedent for the adaptive use of abandoned underground spaces . . . how beautiful is that?

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