Skip to main content

    The Lowline, the world’s first underground park, just cleared a huge hurdle

    An oasis in an abandoned trolley terminal

    Share this story

    Lowline Lab New York photos

    Good news for fans of subterranean flora: New York City officials just gave the green thumbs-up to build the Lowline, the world’s first underground park in an abandoned trolley terminal in Manhattan. The project, which is meant to be the converse of the tremendously popular High Line park — which was built on a disused elevated rail spur — aims to use its own unique sunlight-capturing technology to grow its own mini-forest below street level and next to an active subway line.

    But getting the approval from city regulators is just the first of many tasks the Lowline’s creators will need to overcome. Over the next year, they’ll have to raise $10 million, convene a series of design and community outreach meetings, and submit detailed schematics for further approval before they can begin planning their underground park in the Lower East Side.

    The first of many tasks the Lowline’s creators will need to overcome

    According to the city’s Economic Development Corporation, the Lowline “offers a valuable opportunity to bring more visitors at all times of day to support the neighborhood’s diverse array of independent shops and restaurants.” But some residents may see the Lowline as the death knell for many surrounding shops, some of which will no doubt find themselves pushed out in favor of more high-end tenants.  

    The futuristic underground garden may, on the surface, seem like the kind of forward-thinking urban innovation that could serve as a template for cities around the world. But building anything new in New York City is often a Sisyphean task, requiring multiple approvals from a variety of city and state agencies, and needing to win the support of notoriously truculent community members, skeptical of new development and gentrification.

    Not your average BBQ-and-kickball-friendly park

    To be sure, the Lowline won’t be your average BBQ-and-kickball-friendly park. It will be more like a botanical garden, where the philodendrons, dwarf snake plants, spiderworts, nettles, and Spanish moss are to be admired, and not picnicked upon.

    Last year, The Verge took a tour of the Lowline’s demonstration project in an empty warehouse in the Lower East Side. The project’s co-creator James Ramsey, a former NASA engineer and architect, showed off how large tracking mirrors on the roof capture sunlight and then send it reflecting through a series of tubes into the warehouse below. There, the light is diffused and spread out across a circus tent-like canopy of aluminum panels suspended above the plants.

    Here’s a rendering of what the completed park will look like.