Lowline Park Prototype Lab

I read this week about the initiative to create “Lowline Park” in New York City. Initiated by James Ramsey, Dan Barasch and others, the idea is to refit abandoned underground trolley tracks as an “underground park”. A key feature is the use of light pipes to bring in large amounts of sunlight, to support greenery.

A Kickstarter campaign last year has funded “Lowline Lab”, which is prototyping the idea. The lab itself is an interesting community education space.

This project is being hyped as “the first” underground park,.  I don’t know about that.

There are many spaces in malls and cities that are completely roofed over spaces with plants. Light tubes have been around for decades, of course, though this group is certainly pushing the technology farther. And, of course, we’ve been growing plants indoors for a very long time. These guys are mashing together a bunch of not-new technology here.

I have to say that I’m skeptical about how well this will work. Light is one thing, but plants need soil, water, air, insects, etc.. I’m not sure what kind of ecology they are aiming for, but it will surely take active management to keep things healthy and thriving, just like any indoor planting.

I gather that New Yorkers are happy to get any public space they can, even if it is a “park” down in the bowels of the city. I’m not attracted to the idea of being underground, even if there is clever sun lighting and foliage. It’s still going to feel and sound (and possibly smell) like a dungeon to me.

As far as being a “park”, it’s a pretty limited version. Public space, check. Greenery, check. Walkways and play areas, check. But kite flying? Bird watching? Sun bathing? Frisbee games? Probably not.

Don’t get me wrong, if and when this gets built (and there is a lot of NYC politics to hack through), I’ll be interested to see how well it works out. I’m just not sold beforehand.

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