By now you’ve probably already heard and read about James Ramsey and Dan Barasch’s radical proposal to bring an underground park to the Lower East Side via Essex Street Trolley Terminal below Delancey Street. What you may not know is that the LowLine, as it has become known, has just launched a KickStarter Campaign with a goal of raising $100,000 by April 6th. Here you can pledge money and receive prizes for your donations if funding succeeds. The masterminds behind the projects are not slowing down. Conversations about this project and its possibilities are spreading. Just last week, the Tenement Museum invited Ramsey and Barasch, along with historian Stuart Blumin to discuss the project and some of its social and political consequences.
For most people NYC is an assortment of distinct neighborhoods, rich in history and bleeding into one another, punctured by vast public spaces: Times Square, Union Square, Columbus Circle. But Stuart Blumin, historian and professor, points out that NYC’s grid system, developed by the 1811 Commissioners’ Plan, has actually created a “grid-iron” design of uniformity – one that is “very unfriendly to public space”. All of those spaces listed appear at intersections that are exceptions to the regularity of the grid – they follow Broadway, the street the cuts diagonally across Manhattan creating triangles along its route. These spaces, far more ideal for idling and gathering, are very rare in NYC and specifically in the Lower East Side where Ramsey and Barasch’s proposal takes us.
The Low Line is quite the exception to the “grid-iron” rule. For one, it is underground! The Essex Street Trolley Terminal, built in 1903 and discontinued in 1948, takes up about three subterranean streets along Delancey Street on the East Side of Manhattan. The site has no regard for the busy street above it – no traffic or streetlights, no stop and go between pedestrians and vehicles. Its only exposure to city infrastructure – probably one of the most unique – is the adjacent Essex Street Station along which active subway lines run.
This project would be a valuable addition to the Lower East Side, which Blumin notes is an areas particularly lacking in public space. It also makes use of one of contemporary NYC’s oldest resources – neglected spaces. To fund this project, public money and donations are needed. Public spaces rarely arise out of capitalist ventures, which Blumin also points out, is the reason why NYC in general and the LES specifically does not have enough development of these types of projects – projects that focus primarily on developing community and culture: public spaces. Private entrepreneurism promoted the grid, which provides the optimum division of real estate and that is how it has developed.
The speakers admit that the project is still very conceptual and theoretical. Costs are still estimates and health concerns about the space have no yet been addressed. If the Kickstarter campaign succeeds it will push the project further along, allowing for further research of the site, its current conditions and further prototyping of the sunlight-gathering devices. Check out KickStarter to see how you can support the project!