On 10th Anniversary of its Conception, $83M Lowline Still Years Away

Posted on: April 9th, 2019 at 5:04 am by

At the Lowline Lab, Oct. 2015

The Lowline subterranean park concept this year celebrates a decade on the boards. A decade of proposals, blueprints, and bureaucratic red tape.

Any news of its progress since the 2016 Lowline Lab concept on Essex Street has been silent, to say the least. Lost in a sea of completing local headlines about Essex Crossing.

The Guardian publication checked in with co-founders Dan Barasch and James Ramsey for a refresher of the project. It’s all pretty well worn territory, but buried in the writeup is the update that the Lowline itself will likely debut sometime in 2021.

As previously reported, the proposed tech-savvy park will reside in the old trolley terminal beneath Delancey Street (it’s visible in the Essex Street subway station).

The idea for the Lowline germinated in 2009, co-founded by Barasch and Ramsey as the Delancey Underground. It was polarizing from the beginning; many locals feared a hyper-gentrification scenario similar to the High Line, while supporters thought it a boon for the community.

Ramsey and Barasch, however, don’t see the Lowline as an addendum to the neighbourhood’s propulsive modernisation so much as a vehicle for community engagement. Barasch invokes the sociologist Eric Klinenberg, whose book Palaces For The People argues for a new “social infrastructure” or spaces, ranging from libraries and churches to community gardens and even sidewalks, that enhance civic life and human connection. The idea is that, with renewed investment in public and private institutions of this sort, these spaces function as a kind of social scaffolding. And Barasch insists that, as much as architectural dogma suggests otherwise, good design and social responsibility don’t have to be in contention with one another. In fact, he hopes his experience of “swimming between sectors” and Ramsey’s design bona fides will allow them to corral the funding, political support and communal goodwill to create something that’s both socially conscious and architecturally unprecedented.

“The Lower East Side has a very large proportion of public housing, many vulnerable residents, a very diverse population, and it’s developing rapidly,” Barasch says. “What’s needed for communities to thrive are public spheres where you attract different kinds of people. As populations grow and there’s that rising tension between affluent and low-income residents, the question becomes: what kind of equity are we providing these people when it comes to open space? What the Lowline would do is create that, and also create a year-round open space, which would be first of its kind.”

Team Lowline landed public support through its relentless marketing and community outreach. Despite local opposition at the Community Board level, they ultimately got the go-ahead from the city in 2016.

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