Remote Skylight

The Lowline, formally known as the Delancey Underground, is a proposal for the world’s first underground park. The subterranean public space would be located under the eastbound roadway of Delancey Street on the Lower East Side of Manhattan (adjacent to the Essex Street station).

Co-founders James Ramsey and Dan Barasch have suggested natural light would be directed below ground using fiber optics—described in the proposed plan as ‘remote skylights’—to provide an area in which trees and grass could be grown beneath the city streets.

Light collectors would be placed at ground level, with suggested locations, including the median on Delancey Street. Artificial lighting would be used to supplement the redirect sunlight, and at night and when the sun is obscured by clouds. The area, with ceilings 20 feet high, extends three blocks east from Essex Street to Clinton Street and was used until 1948 as a station and turnaround point for streetcars crossing the Williamsburg Bridge to and from Brooklyn. The large trolley terminal that is the site has sat unused for 60 years. The park project was first proposed in 2011.

In 2012, the project successfully raised over $150,000 from 3,300 backers on Kickstarter to create a full-scale exhibition of the solar lighting technology. An installation was opened on the Lower East Side to promote the project; titled ‘Imagining the Lowline,’ it consisted of a 30-foot wide aluminum solar canopy distributing natural sunlight onto a live cultivated landscape ‘park.’ The project has been endorsed by politicians and organizations such as US Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and the Lower East Side business improvement district.

Barasch and Ramsey worked with HR&A Advisors and Arup to complete a feasibility study outlining the cost to build the park, long-term business model and community benefits. The underground area borders the 1,650,000 square feet Seward Park Urban Renewal Area, for which the Economic Development Corporation has issued an RFP (request for proposal). The Lowline site is not included in the RFP as it is owned by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The Lowline team is currently working with the MTA, who won’t contribute any funds, and city to gain access to build in the site as well as continuing with their fundraising efforts.

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