NYC’s Ambitious Underground Park Takes A Giant Step Towards Reality

The Lowline still has to clear some hurdles–but after five years, it’s finally on its way to being built.

NYC’s Ambitious Underground Park Takes A Giant Step Towards Reality
[Images: via The Lowline]

The Lowline–the subterranean park project dreamt up by a former NASA engineer (and architect)–is one step closer to reality: the city of New York has provisionally approved the use of the space, requiring that the group fundraise $10 million and submit its plans within the next 12 months.

Today Alicia Glen–the Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development–announced that the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) has had chosen the group to develop its plan, which calls for the former Williamsburg Bridge Trolley Terminal to be converted into a public park that pipes sunlight underground to grow plants in every season, using a technology that captures sunlight on the street level and concentrates it for use below ground.

The vacant terminal totals approximately 60,000 square feet, and runs underneath the Lower East Side’s Delancey Street between Clinton and Norfolk. Although it is currently leased by the MTA, the Terminal has stood empty, largely forgotten, for the better part of the century. By converting this space into a high-tech public garden, the City hopes that they will be able to transform a neglected, blighted remnant of the city’s past into an innovation hub.

“The Lowline represents an incredible fusion of technology and public space,” said Glen. “For 80 years, this underground space has sat idle. Now we’re putting it to use for the people of the Lower East Side and for all New Yorkers to enjoy. We can’t wait to see this experiment unfold.”

But there are still some hurdles to clear before the one-acre underground garden becomes a reality.

Although the Lowline group now has approval to use the space they’ve earmarked for the project, they still need to meet several goals and deadlines for the project to ever become a reality. For example, they will need to implement a “robust” community engagement plan that includes at least “5-10 public design charrettes and quarterly Community Engagement Committee meetings,” complete schematic design documents and present them for approval, and raise a fundraising target of at least $10 million over the next year.

Still, given all the press attention the Lowline has received over the years, as well as its high-profile celebrity endorsements, these requirements seem easily met. In 10 years, who’s to say the Lowline won’t be just as much a part of the daily life of the Lower East Side as the High Line is on the West Side?

About the author

John Brownlee is a design writer who lives in Somerville, Massachusetts. You can email him at