By Julia Lull and Brittany Rivera, Special to CNN
New York (CNN) - In crowded cities like Manhattan where most people work and live in high-rise buildings, there is a desire for green space and fresh air. Rather than create another park above the ground, two designers have proposed the LowLine, what they call “the world’s first underground park.”
The project, founded by Dan Barasch and James Ramsey, would take the old Essex Street Trolley Terminal located on Manhattan’s Lower East Side and convert it into a subterranean playground, complete with sunlight.
After a friend and former MTA employee told Barasch and Ramsey about the amount of unused space underground, they decided to build something that would use the free space in the city, rather than add to the already dense skyline.
“These huge skyscrapers take away from the view of the sky. So the question of sort of where can we build new public spaces has made a new generation of urbanists think very creatively about what to do with the spaces around the city,” said Barasch.
Through funding from their Kickstarter campaign, which raised $155,187, Barasch and Ramsey put their plan into action. Some of which included developing technology to bring light underground.
The specially designed solar disks collect sunlight from street level and deliver it underground through a series of cables. The resulting UV light is strong enough to grow plants, but not enough to get a tan.
Many members of the community already seem excited about the economic prospects that the LowLine could bring to the area.
“Just the concept itself seems like it’s going to be amazing. I think when the world comes to see this LowLine, just like they did for the High Line, it’s great for the area,” said Mark Hernandez, owner of the Berkli Parc Café located at 63 Delancey Street.
“We are trying deeply to engage the community in the process from the beginning,” said Barasch. “We have a lot of people at the grassroots level that are really behind what we are doing and are directly providing input.”
The MTA owns the property and is not accepting proposals at this time.
In a YouTube video released last year, the MTA focused on getting, “creative entities to look towards doing revenue generating projects.” The ideas mentioned in the video for the space include recreation facilities, retail, or a restaurant/nightclub.
However, Barasch and Ramsey are not losing hope. They are getting as much community support as they can.
In September, the former Essex Market Building will be transformed into a small test installation to be viewed by the public.
The exhibit will show off the technology that Barasch and Ramsey developed as well as give people the opportunity to “engage in a broader community based discussion about what the idea is all about and how this could be transformative in a positive way for the neighborhood,” says Barasch.
Besides community involvement, another important element of the LowLine is historical preservation. The trolley terminal was built in 1903 to house the old Williamsburg Bridge trolleys and according to Ramsey, the history is essential to the project.
The Lower East Side's streets are narrow and winding, the buildings small and squat. The neighborhood is one of the city’s oldest and most diverse. Since the 18th century, it has served as the home to millions of immigrants, from Germans and Italians to Russians and Chinese. Today there is a growing Puerto Rican and Dominican influence in the area.
The Lower East Side has become an area of contention. Historic buildings are being torn down as wealthy business owners move into the area looking for cheap real estate and a place to put new hotels, bars, and restaurants.
This gentrification has landed the Lower East Side on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s list of America’s Most Endangered Cities as of 2008.
On their website the National Trust proclaims that the area has been added to the list because the new construction “threatens to erode the fabric of the community and wipe away the collective memory of generations of immigrant families.”
For Barasch and Ramsey, constructing the LowLine on the Lower East Side comes as a matter of social justice.
“It’s a neighborhood that has often been overlooked by the powers that be and planners and because of that has very little green space. The Lower East Side is perfectly positioned at sort of a crossroads where the community could use a public space and a public green space for that matter,” says Ramsey.
“It’s not just a park,” he concludes. “It’s its own experience. This is a crazy project and it will be incredible if we are able to do it.”