No Space for New Parks in Your City? How About Under it?

This is really happening. And solar power is the key.

James Ramsey and Dan Barasch have a dream. They want to build the first underground park, and they want to do it underneath one of the most crowded and lively areas in the world — the Lower East Side of New York City. In order to realize their dream, they have developed a “simple system” that can harvest sunlight above the streets and then direct it below the city sidewalks, in a way that will allow plants and trees to grow underground. 


The story of the project begins about five years ago when Ramsey, owner of design firm Raad Studio, and Barasch have a chat over wine, discussing the abandoned one-acre Williamsburg Bridge trolley terminal, solar technology that can allow trees and plants to grow underground, and the possibility of combining the two to turn an abandoned underground terminal into an underground park.

In 2012, team Lowline (as the project has been nicknamed) installs a functioning full-scale prototype of the solar technology and accompanying green park in an abandoned warehouse directly above the actual site, proving that the idea is absolutely feasible.

The system, designed by Ramsey, consists of a solar collection dish, raised above ground on a helio tube with a fiber optic cable that channels the light collected by the dish to subterranean subway stations. On the other end of the tube, underground, a dome reflects and distributes the channeled sunlight. The system filters out harmful ultraviolet and infrared light, but keeps the wavelengths used in photosynthesis, enabling the growth of trees and grass.

Once built, the Lowline would be a dynamic cultural space, featuring a diversity of community programming and youth activities. We envision not merely a new public space, but an innovative display of how technology can transform our cities in the 21st century. And along the way, we intend to draw the community into the design process itself, empowering a new generation of Lower East Siders to help build a new bright spot in our dense urban environment.”

An underground park like the Lowline is surely needed in an area that gets only one-tenth of the green space that other cities get. A big advantage is the fact that the underground park will be able to function throughout the year, regardless of the seasons and weather conditions. 

Ramsey and Barasch plan to open the park in 2018. In the meantime, they are conducting seminars, discussions, and exhibitions, engaging young people and the entire community in the project and are also completing negotiations with the MTA and the city to build and operate the park. They are also currently fundraising on Kickstarter for the construction of “an ambitious Lowline Lab — a long-term solar device-testing laboratory and public exhibition to test and display our tech and design vision.”

Photos: The Lowline

Related Articles

How does alcohol affect your brain?

Explore how alcohol affects your brain, from the first sip at the bar to life-long drinking habits.

(Photo by Angie Garrett/Wikimedia Commons)
Mind & Brain
  • Alcohol is the world's most popular drug and has been a part of human culture for at least 9,000 years.
  • Alcohol's effects on the brain range from temporarily limiting mental activity to sustained brain damage, depending on levels consumed and frequency of use.
  • Understanding how alcohol affects your brain can help you determine what drinking habits are best for you.
Keep reading Show less

Scientists sequence the genome of this threatened species

If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx a team of DNA sequencers has figured that out.

Surprising Science
  • A team at UMass Amherst recently sequenced the genome of the Canadian lynx.
  • It's part of a project intending to sequence the genome of every vertebrate in the world.
  • Conservationists interested in the Canadian lynx have a new tool to work with.

If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx, I can now—as of this month—point you directly to the DNA of a Canadian lynx, and say, "That's what makes a lynx a lynx." The genome was sequenced by a team at UMass Amherst, and it's one of 15 animals whose genomes have been sequenced by the Vertebrate Genomes Project, whose stated goal is to sequence the genome of all 66,000 vertebrate species in the world.

Sequencing the genome of a particular species of an animal is important in terms of preserving genetic diversity. Future generations don't necessarily have to worry about our memory of the Canadian Lynx warping the way hearsay warped perception a long time ago.

elephant by Guillaume le Clerc

Artwork: Guillaume le Clerc / Wikimedia Commons

13th-century fantastical depiction of an elephant.

It is easy to see how one can look at 66,000 genomic sequences stored away as being the analogous equivalent of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is a potential tool for future conservationists.

But what are the practicalities of sequencing the genome of a lynx beyond engaging with broad bioethical questions? As the animal's habitat shrinks and Earth warms, the Canadian lynx is demonstrating less genetic diversity. Cross-breeding with bobcats in some portions of the lynx's habitat also represents a challenge to the lynx's genetic makeup. The two themselves are also linked: warming climates could drive Canadian lynxes to cross-breed with bobcats.

John Organ, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife units, said to MassLive that the results of the sequencing "can help us look at land conservation strategies to help maintain lynx on the landscape."

What does DNA have to do with land conservation strategies? Consider the fact that the food found in a landscape, the toxins found in a landscape, or the exposure to drugs can have an impact on genetic activity. That potential change can be transmitted down the generative line. If you know exactly how a lynx's DNA is impacted by something, then the environment they occupy can be fine-tuned to meet the needs of the lynx and any other creature that happens to inhabit that particular portion of the earth.

Given that the Trump administration is considering withdrawing protection for the Canadian lynx, a move that caught scientists by surprise, it is worth having as much information on hand as possible for those who have an interest in preserving the health of this creature—all the way down to the building blocks of a lynx's life.

Why cauliflower is perfect for the keto diet

The exploding popularity of the keto diet puts a less used veggie into the spotlight.

Purple cauliflower. (Photo: Shutterstock)
Surprising Science
  • The cauliflower is a vegetable of choice if you're on the keto diet.
  • The plant is low in carbs and can replace potatoes, rice and pasta.
  • It can be eaten both raw and cooked for different benefits.
Keep reading Show less