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How do you follow the tremendous success of New York City’s High Line Park, which is drawing millions of visitors from around the word? Why, by going underground of course.

In a city such as New York, where creating new public space is ever more challenging, the High Line Park opened up exciting new possibilities. Built on a dilapidated and overgrown elevated rail line above Manhattan’s West Side, the High Line has become a reenergized part of the City’s mounting silhouette. Now New York hopes to further its parameters by building the world’s first underground park. Aptly named the “Lowline,” the project aims to recycle an old trolley terminal located in one of the least green areas of the City. The underground site will be renovated and landscaped, and, most groundbreaking of all, it will be illuminated with sunlight via fiber optics. First proposed in 2011, in light of the High Line’s immense publicity, the Lowline has since generated its own media buzz, with money raised to test the solar technology, and a full-scale model built for proof-of-concept.

The location of the Lowline is the former Williamsburg Bridge Trolley Terminal in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Used until 1948 for streetcars crossing the Bridge to and from Brooklyn, the abandoned station comprises a three-block-long area. Many of the original station details - cobblestones, tracks, vaulted ceilings, vintage signs - will be restored, ensuring the new underground park preserve the site’s historical significance and charm. As stated in the official proposal, the Lowline will be “a dynamic cultural space, featuring a diversity of cultural programming, youth activities, and popular retail.”


The old station also boasts a 20-foot ceiling, and this is where the project gets really interesting. Cofounders James Ramsey and Dan Barasch envisioned “remote skylights” that will direct natural light below ground so that trees and grass can be grown beneath the city streets. Supplementing the redirected sunlight, artificial lighting will be used at night or when clouds obscure the sun. This solar technology has already been successfully tested. Sunlight passes through a glass shield above a parabolic collector, is reflected and gathered at one focal point, and directed underground. There it is transmitted onto a reflective distributor dish, reflecting it further throughout the space. This will enable photosynthesis, and landscaping plans include a rich variety of plants and trees. Along with creating a novel public space, the project will exemplify how technology can transform cities.


Work on the Lowline is ongoing with the City of New York and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, with construction estimated to begin by 2017, and the park open the following year. Learn more about the Lowline project in this video:

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