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New York City Plans the World’s First Underground Park

Renee Farris headshotWords by Renee Farris
Data & Technology
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New York City, you’re at it again. Every other city in the U.S. was already jealous of your underground subway (especially LA), but now you’ve really outdone yourself. Five years ago you asked, “How can we build more green space in our cities?” Then you had a crazy idea. You decided the answer lay below your feet and ambitiously decided to build the world’s first (drumroll) … underground park. Amazing.

Then you asked an even crazier question, “What if the sun could shine underground?” And you figured out a way to give the underground park natural sunlight.

First came the High Line, a park in the sky. Now comes the Lowline, an underground park. The bottom line is: We are impressed. New York, is there anything you can’t do? Oh yeah, eliminate cockroaches. But still, we admire you.

The Lowline is a project that will transform an early 1900s underground trolley terminal into a luscious green park the size of a football field.

Creator and co-founder, James Ramsey, says, “The core feature of the Lowline is that we can take the sunlight, send it underground, and use that to grow stuff. With this natural sunlight, we can take an abandoned trolley terminal […] and transform it into a vibrant public place that is filled with plants and trees and create something unlike the world has ever seen.”

The project is being crowdfunded on Kickstarter. The goal is $200,000, and donations are currently around $87,000 with 14 days to go, so you still have time to open up your wallet and give a little green to create more green.

Dan Barasch, co-founder and executive director, explained during a TED Talk that walking through the old underground trolley station made him feel like Indiana Jones on an architectural dig, minus being chased by natives with blowguns.

Barasch was also fascinated by the area because his grandparents lived nearby when the trolley station was running. They were part of the generation that built up New York City. He used to ask his Italian grandma about that time period, but she just told him to eat more spaghetti and meatballs. Now he feels it’s his generation’s turn to build the city by turning abandoned areas into beautiful spaces for the community.

The entrance to the park will literally be a slab of peeled-back street, as if Godzilla had taken a peek at the trolley station. People will be able to step down underneath the layer of the modern world and walk into the history of the past. Oddly enough, they will simultaneously experience the future since modern technology will transform the underground with natural sunlight. Sunlight will be collected by mirrors and tubes will transport the sunlight underground.

Other cities have more green space than New York City. This particular area only has one-tenth the green space of other cities. Fortunately, the Lowline will be a four season park -- the warmth of the underground will make it useable during the cold winter.

Barasch reminisced, “I always knew as a kid that I wanted to make a difference. To somehow make the world more beautiful, more interesting and more just. I just didn’t really know how.” How many of us have said the same thing? He went through a slew of social impact jobs looking for the right fit.

First he worked for UNICEF in Kenya. Then for the U.S. government (yeah, you saw that disillusionment coming). Next he worked at Google because he was inspired by technology’s ability to solve some social problems. Finally, he found his purpose when he started a side project creating the Lowline. Then he did something crazy … he quit his job. That takes guts that most of us don’t have. But when you find your passion, you’ve got to burn your bridges and pursue it with your whole heart. Kudos to this guy for making his dream a reality.

Barasch is now sharing his childhood dream of making a difference with the children in the community. He created a Young Designers program which gives the kids a chance to help design the park. Robyn Shapiro, the Lowline director of community, says the “program is meant to engage local youth in designing and building their vision for what the future of the park could be. Some of the ideas were completely whimsical and fun.” One kid’s model included zip lines, tree houses and a skate park. Yes, please.

A young girl named Bryanna adorably expressed the significance of the park, “It’s important to build the Lowline so now we can have something down there instead of nothing.” Exactly.

Keep dreaming and changing the world, New York.

Image credits: Feature image by Steve Slater via Flickr; 1) The Lowline website; 2-4) Dan Barasch's TED Talk

Renee Farris headshotRenee Farris

Renee is a social impact strategist who works with companies to help them focus on key social and environmental opportunities. She loves connecting with people so feel free to contact her at renee.a.farris@gmail.com.

Read more stories by Renee Farris