In 2009, right around the time the first section of the much-lauded High Line project opened to the public, offering New Yorkers access to an unused section of elevated railroad tracks in Manhattan that had been transformed into a green space, a couple of guys chatted one night over "too much wine" and plotted quite the opposite—an underground park. The Lowline, as it has come to be called, is the brainchild of James Ramsey, owner of the Lower East Side design firm Raad Studio, and Dan Barasch, who had been exploring installing underground art in the New York City subway system. What started off as a super-idealistic vision of the world's first subterranean park replete with filtered natural sunlight has now been given a green light by the New York City Economic Development Corporation. The park's open date is projected to be in 2021.
The project technically goes back to 1908, when a 1-acre Williamsburg Bridge trolley terminal opened on Delancey Street to help transport residents of the Lower East Side to Brooklyn. By 1948 it was closed to the public and never used again, even though it's right next to the city's J/M/A subway line. At the heart of the redesign is the use of very forward-thinking solar tech that uses a "remote skylight," where sunlight is collected and passed through a glass shield, reflected and gathered to a focal point, and directed down through fiber-optic cables to a reflective surface that redistributes the collected light—just enough to enable photosynthesis. To be built in what Mother Nature Network describes as an already "tree-deprived Lower East Side," the project enjoyed two successful Kickstarter campaigns with thousands of supporters worldwide. "We're channeling sunlight the way they did in ancient Egyptian tombs, but in a supermodern way," Ramsey told New York in 2011. In fact, when the sun is shining, the entire park will be solar powered, not just the greenery. (Check out the "sidescraper" proposal for New York's Central Park.)