This Is Science! The Low Line is Not Just A Subterranean High Line

Delancey Underground, a.k.a. the Low Line

The fact that it was underground was not the only aspect of the Low Line that set it apart from its railroad friend, the High Line.

“There are a lot of differences. This is a new form of solar technology… the idea that we treat light like a liquid,” explained co-founder James Ramsey, the more scientific of the two. This concept, of channeling light in order to photosynthesize subterranean plant life, came to him while traveling through India.

When the Observer walked into Essex Market Building D on the Lower East Side, an old warehouse above the proposed space that the Low Line Park will occupy, for the Imagining the Low Line exhibit, we found he made a point. Once adjusted to the darkness, and the overwhelming smell of foliage, we were met with a $5,000 Japanese Maple Tree, flourishing in spite of the darkness on a bed of rich moss. Above it, the science; a solar technology demo whereby a rotating sun beamer collects sunlight and distributes it down to the organisms below.

Ed Jacobs, the industrial designer of the demo, said that the project was a case of “understanding the material, the manufacturability and an issue of scale and of production.”

The entities benefiting from this were selected by Misty Gonzalez, of Hortus Environmental Design, who attempted to assemble the trees and plants that would usually be found on the rainforest canapé, an environment similar to this microclimate. She described her experience as “design science.”

The Observer was impressed by the illuminated scene, which resembled the pastoral setting of Watership Down amid darkness. Very ethereal! But with a target of $30 million to $50 million needed to build the Low Line—the project raised $150,000 this summer—and no permission yet to develop the 60,000 square feet under the exhibit space, we couldn’t help but wonder: can they really pull it off?

“The park will definitely happen in five to eight years time,” said co-founder Dan Barasch, “I have increasing confidence every day.”

He’d better be confident with the exhibit opening to the public this weekend and two days of street fairs, bringing local vendors to the space.

Mr. Barasch assured us that the concept “signifies something beyond location.” Even if this particular space does not pull through, the exhibit will highlight the potential to develop any number of underground spaces.

But the Lower East Side community does matter. The project has attracted enormous support from LES residents, who lack green space.

Mr. Barasch, who deals more with the community side of the project, felt that “by bringing together core members of the Lower East Side community throughout this exhibit, we will show that the Low Line is not only possible, but will be sustainable as a viable community organization over the longer term.”

Mr. Ramsey agreed that the Low LinePark would provide a space in which to “stitch this community together a little bit,” a place to “combine performance and education.”

And the future of park space in New York? Enter the Columbia University students whose Experiments in Motion exhibit, running alongside the futuristic indoor park, imagines the future of urban motion in New York, such as Kelsey Lent’s Gang(Green) vision of “regaining the balance between nature and infrastructure” by connecting the above ground parks via underground green spaces.

The proposal were presented via a fifty-foot long model of Manhattan’s subway grid, projected onto the floor of the warehouse (courtesy of Audi America).

When The Observer emerged from the exhibit into the daylight, it was like leaving a perpetual twilight behind. A space where visitors could spend hours in a type of parallel universe. Whether the park actually goes forward in this space or not—or whether it lives up to Mr. Ramsey’s vision of a place where “futuristic technology can be linked to the deep history of New York”—there’s no doubt about the potential growth of a concept that has been meticulously nurtured. This Is Science! The Low Line is Not Just A Subterranean High Line