The Low Line Shows Signs of Life
by jessica ferri
A rendering of Delancey Underground
Daniel Barasch and James Ramsey are two friends on a mission to create Manhattan's first underground park. Inspired by the success of The High Line, the Delancey Underground project would occupy the abandoned Williamsburg streetcar station beneath Delancey Street. Though city officials have yet to give the green light, the eco-friendly community park project has had overwhelming community support. We spoke to Barasch and Ramsey about the status of the Delancey Underground project, how solar redirection technology can make plants and trees grow underground and their favorite green spaces in New York.
Tell us about the Delancey Underground project and when you think it will open.
DANIEL BARASCH: Our vision is to build an underground park in the heart of the Lower East Side—right beneath Delancey Street. The abandoned former Williamsburg Trolley Terminal, which is 1.5 acres in size and hasn't been touched since 1948, is ripe for renewal. We'd like to introduce a new solar technology as the lighting solution for the space and create a beautiful, awe-inspiring Low Line park for community use. We've had tremendous support from the community and city officials and we are preparing a formal proposal to the MTA, who holds the master lease on the site. Opening date is certainly a few years off, but this is the year when support from New Yorkers is most critical.
What was the genesis of the project?
DB: We've been friends for years—James, an architect and founder of Raad Studio, developed a new technology that channels sunlight underground—and had an exciting idea: Why not filter sunlight into a massive unused underground tunnel? When [James] came across the former trolley terminal below Delancey Street, he started investigating further.
What exactly is "solar redirection technology"?
DB: James has designed a new technology that directs sunlight below ground via fiber optic cables. Solar collectors placed at street level collect sunlight throughout the day, and that light is then reflected below ground. While the light emitted below ground does not emit the ultraviolet rays harmful to skin, it does distribute the light wavelengths supporting photosynthesis—enabling plants, trees and grasses to grow.
What can you tell us about the space you’ve chosen?
DB: The former Williamsburg Trolley Terminal was opened in 1903, as a depot for streetcars ferrying passengers between Williamsburg and the Lower East Side. It was in service until 1948, when streetcar service was discontinued, and has not been used ever since. Despite six decades of neglect, the space still retains some incredible features, like remnant cobblestones, crisscrossing rail tracks and vaulted ceilings. It is also directly adjacent to the existing JMZ subway track, so park visitors and subway riders would interact daily.
How have your past career experiences prepared you for this project and what advice would you give to those interested in green technology?
JAMES RAMSEY: As an architect and a designer, and as a former NASA employee, I'm incredibly inspired by the design potential of this particular solar technology. I think green technology needs to be creatively applied to a host of real-world challenges, even if widespread adoption in other areas may be a few years away. But, ultimately, we will all need to think about fresh ways to use renewable energy and natural light. I'd encourage everyone to think about how [that] can impact their bottom-line operations.
DB: My career spans across government, media and non-profit organizations, so I feel I have a sense of how we might inspire a variety of stakeholders around a common vision for a community-oriented public space. I'd say that green technology can seem like expensive, even frivolous, science fiction, but it's really not. There are some incredible people out there doing incredible, inspiring, impactful things. A great first step is to learn more from organizations—from non-governmental organizations to foundations to conferences to universities—that support emerging technologies and connect with people and projects that inspire.
What are your favorite green spaces in New York?
DB: The High Line, obviously! I'm also a fan of the dog park in Tompkins Square Park as it's a few steps from my apartment. I love biking up the new Hudson River Park, from Tribeca to the George Washington Bridge, and taking a break in one of the many green spaces along the way.
JR: The High Line is of course a favorite, as are the vast open spaces in Central Park and Prospect Park. A recent visit up to City Island reminded me of how Pelham Bay Park and that whole area feels a bit like a secret gem.
Cover shoot: May/June 2014 issue of Gotham magazine.