The New York Lowline: Solar Subterranean Park

In 1999 a group of New York residents began an ambitious experiment reclaiming a large expanse of abandoned elevated freight train tracks by turning the space into a public park. Today the Highline provides urban residents with over a kilometer of green space, floating several meters above the city’s base.  Inspired by the highline’s success a team of engineers and landscape designers have proposed the opposite idea: convert a deserted underground trolley depot into a subterranean green space for urban leisure.

Later this month, New Yorkers will get an introduction to how the park might feasibly operate.  Using KickStarter funding, The Lowline founders will host an exhibit demonstrating the technology that will  channel enough sunlight to the subterranean spaces to support a diversity of low-light loving plant life.  The exhibit—on display September 15–27—features an innovative skylight that delivers the sun’s energy from an outdoor solar collector to an indoor canopy for distribution.

Organizers are pitching the Lowline as the worlds first underground park covering a space of more than 60,000 square feet with vaulted 5-meter high ceilings. The park would feature farmers markets, art exhibits, youth programming and performances alongside an impressive array of low-light tolerating plant species. Trees, shrubs, grasses and plants would  cover floor and wall spaces creating a year-round green space underneath the Lower East Side.

Given the complete absence of natural light, “remote skylight” technology developed by Lowline co-founder James Ramsey (a former NASA satellite developer) will be pivotal in the park’s success. The remote skylight will use a reflective, parabolic solar collection dish outdoors to gather and concentrate sunlight. This dish will have a tracking mechanism so it can follow the sun across the sky. Fiber-optic cable will transmit captured solar radiation to the park; a series of domelike fixtures will use lenses and reflectors to distribute the light throughout the Lowline.

In a recent interview with the Village Voice, Ramsey admitted that the  community is concerned about

“all the usual negative associations that hover around subway stations, issues with security, darkness, dirtiness. Were asking people to imagine what is possible.”

Read more about the Lowline:  HuffPost, Kickstarter, Lowline.org

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