Tapping into the Potential of New York’s “Lost” Underpasses

Broadway in Harlem; Kevin Harber via Flickr; Licensed via Creative Commons

The Brooklyn Queens Expressway (BQE) cuts through myriad neighborhoods on its route between Queens and Brooklyn. Sometimes it takes the form of an elevated six-lane highway with nothing but dark parking lots below; sometimes as a deep trench that segregates neighborhood pockets. The Cross Bronx Expressway in the South Bronx similarly creates boundaries, isolating neighborhoods from each other.

Projects such as these, built under the heavy handed politics of Robert Moses in the mid-20th century, show little regard for community development. The effects of these projects can be seen today; the  spaces below the highway overpasses of tend to be dark, dingy places that we avoid or rush past. They’re perceived as “lost space” within the city, yet they have an innate potential to be much more.

, a non-profit dedicated to promoting public space, sees that potential. With their new project, Under the Elevated: Reclaiming Space, Connecting Communities, they hope to take these “lost” spaces and turn them into safe and exciting venues that will, at long last, reconnect long-separated communities.

More on this exciting program, after the break.

Kings Highway, Brooklyn; Violette79 via Flickr; Licensed via Creative Commons

100 million square feet are hiding in plain sight below the highways, bridges, subways, and trains of New York City. The Design Trust, in partnership with the NYC Department of Transportation (DOT), is surveying community leaders, planners, architects, artists and cultural organizations to consider ways in which these undesirable parts of the city could become public spaces (for events, art, and/or recreation) that integrate seamlessly into the city itself.

NYC; anjuli_ayer via Flickr; Licensed via Creative Commons

With the survey results, Under the Elevated will produce design guidelines (with programming and policy recommendations) that can be used to develop these interstitial spaces – not just in New York, but around the world. The project will follow the lead of the Design Trust’s 2001 project, Reclaiming the High Line, produced in partnership with Friends of the Highline, which similarly studied the feasibility of and strategies for transforming an abandoned elevated structure into a vibrant public space. As Susan Chin, executive director of the Design Trust said in a statement, “When you look at the impact the mile-and-a-half-long High Line has created, and then consider the potential of these spaces in neighborhoods across the five boroughs, you understand the magnitude of this undertaking,”

Moreover, from among its expert contributors, the Design Trust has also chosen five fellows, who will work independently and collaboratively towards cleaning up these spaces and making their transformations a reality. The fellows include Susannah Drake, principal of architecture and urban design firm dlandstudio, artist and architectural designer Chat Travieso, photographer Krisanne Johnson, graphic designer Neil Donnelly, and planner and urban designer Douglas Woodward.

Bay Ridge, BQE; Zachary Korb (zkorb) via Flickr; Licensed via Creative Commons

You can get more information on Under the Elevated: Reclaiming Space, Connecting Communities at the Design Trust website.

Images via Flickr Users: Zachary Korb (zkorb), Matt Green (Hobo Matt), anjuli_ayer,Violette79, Johannes Martin, Kevin Harber

Cite: Vinnitskaya, Irina. "Tapping into the Potential of New York’s “Lost” Underpasses" 21 Jun 2013. ArchDaily. Accessed 25 Oct 2014. <http://www.archdaily.com/?p=389484>