sponsored links
TED@NYC

Dan Barasch: A park underneath the hustle and bustle of New York City

July 9, 2014

Dan Barasch and James Ramsey have a crazy plan — to create a park, filled with greenery, underneath New York City. The two are developing the Lowline, an underground greenspace the size of a football field. They're building it in a trolley terminal abandoned in 1948, using technology that harvests sunlight above-ground and directs it down below. It's a park that can thrive, even in winter.

Dan Barasch - Strategist
Dan Barasch’s grandmother grew up in New York’s Lower East Side. Now, he’s building an underground park in her old neighborhood, where greenspace is limited. Full bio

sponsored links
Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
My dream is to build the world's first
00:12
underground park in New York City.
00:14
Now, why would someone want
to build an underground park,
00:17
and why in New York City?
00:19
These three tough little buggers
00:23
are, on the left, my grandmother, age five,
00:24
and then her sister and brother,
00:27
ages 11 and nine.
00:29
This photo was taken just before they left
00:30
from Italy to immigrate to the United States,
00:32
just about a century ago.
00:35
And like many immigrants at the time,
00:37
they arrived on the Lower East Side
00:39
in New York City
00:41
and they encountered a crazy melting pot.
00:42
What was amazing about their generation
00:45
was that they were not only building new lives
00:46
in this new, unfamiliar area,
00:49
but they were also literally building the city.
00:51
I've always been fascinated by those decades
00:54
and by that history,
00:56
and I would often beg my grandmother
00:57
to tell me as many stories as possible
01:00
about the old New York.
01:01
But she would often just shrug it off,
01:03
tell me to eat more meatballs, more pasta,
01:06
and so I very rarely got
01:08
any of the history that I wanted to hear about.
01:10
The New York City that I encountered
01:13
felt pretty built up.
01:14
I always knew as a kid that I wanted
01:16
to make a difference, and to somehow
01:18
make the world more beautiful, more interesting
01:20
and more just.
01:22
I just didn't really know how.
01:23
At first, I thought I wanted to go work abroad,
01:25
so I took a job with UNICEF in Kenya.
01:26
But it felt weird to me that I knew more about
01:29
local Kenyan politics than the
politics of my own hometown.
01:31
I took a job with the City of New York,
01:35
but very quickly felt frustrated
01:37
with the slowness of government bureaucracy.
01:39
I even took a job at Google,
01:42
where very fast I drank the Kool-Aid
01:44
and believed almost wholeheartedly
01:47
that technology could solve all social problems.
01:48
But I still didn't feel like I was
making the world a better place.
01:52
It was in 2009 that my friend
01:55
and now business partner James Ramsey
01:57
alerted me to the location of a pretty spectacular site,
01:59
which is this.
02:02
This is the former trolley terminal
02:04
that was the depot for passengers
02:06
traveling over the Williamsburg Bridge
02:08
from Brooklyn to Manhattan,
02:10
and it was open between 1908 and 1948,
02:12
just around the time when my grandparents were
02:15
living right in the area.
02:18
And we learned also that the site
02:19
was entirely abandoned in 1948.
02:21
Fascinated by this discovery,
02:24
we begged the authorities to draw us into the space,
02:26
and we finally got a tour,
02:29
and this is what we saw.
02:31
Now, this photo doesn't really do it justice.
02:33
It's kind of hard to imagine the unbelievably magical
02:35
feeling that you have when you get in this space.
02:37
It's a football field of unused land
02:40
immediately below a very crowded area of the city,
02:43
and it almost feels like you're Indiana Jones
02:47
on an archaeological dig,
02:49
and all the details are all still there.
02:51
It's really pretty remarkable.
02:52
Now, the site itself is located at the very heart
02:54
of the Lower East Side,
02:57
and today it still remains one of the most
02:59
crowded neighborhoods in the city.
03:00
New York City has two thirds the green space
03:02
per resident as other big cities,
03:04
and this neighborhood as one tenth the green space.
03:06
So we immediately started thinking about how we
03:09
could take this site and turn it into something
03:11
that could be used for the public,
03:13
but also could potentially even be green.
03:15
Our plan, in a nutshell,
03:17
is to draw natural sunlight underground
03:19
using a simple system that
harvests sunlight above the street,
03:21
directs it below the city sidewalks,
03:24
and would allow plants and trees to grow
03:27
with the light that's directed underneath.
03:29
With this approach, you could take a site
03:31
that looks like this today
03:33
and transform it into something
03:35
that looks like this.
03:37
In 2011, we first released some of these images,
03:39
and what was funny was,
03:43
a lot of people said to us, "Oh, it kind of looks
03:45
like the High Line underground."
03:47
And so what our nickname ended up becoming,
03:49
and what ended up sticking,
03:53
was the Lowline, so the Lowline was born.
03:55
What was also clear was that people really wanted
03:58
to know a lot more about how the technology
03:59
would look and feel,
04:01
and that there was really much more interest in this
04:03
than we had ever thought possible.
04:05
So, like a crazy person, I decided to quit my job
04:07
and focus entirely on this project.
04:09
Here is us with our team
04:11
putting together a technology demonstration
04:13
in a warehouse.
04:16
Here's the underbelly of this solar canopy
04:18
which we built to show the technology.
04:21
You can see the six solar collectors at the center there.
04:23
And here's the full exhibit all put together
04:26
in this warehouse.
04:29
You can see the solar canopy overhead,
04:30
the light streaming in,
04:32
and this entirely live green space below.
04:33
So in the course of just a few weeks,
04:36
tens of thousands of people came to see our exhibit,
04:37
and since that time, we've grown
04:41
our numbers of supporters both locally
04:42
and among design enthusiasts all over the world.
04:45
Here's a rendering of the neighborhood
04:47
just immediately above the Line's site,
04:49
and a rendering of how it will look
04:52
after major redevelopment that is coming
04:54
over the course of the next 10 years.
04:56
Notice how crowded the neighborhood still feels
04:58
and how there's really a lack of green space.
05:00
So what we're proposing is really something that will
05:02
add one football field of green space
05:05
underneath this neighborhood, but more importantly
05:09
will introduce a really community-driven focus
05:12
in a rapidly gentrifying area.
05:14
And right now, we're focusing very closely
05:16
on how we engage with the City of New York
05:18
on really transforming the overall ecosystem
05:21
in an integrated way.
05:24
Here's our rendering of how we would actually
05:26
invite people into the space itself.
05:28
So here you see this iconic entrance
05:30
in which we would literally peel up the street
05:32
and reveal the historical layers of the city,
05:34
and invite people into this warm underground space.
05:37
In the middle of winter, when it's
absolutely freezing outside,
05:40
the last place you'd want to go would be
05:43
an outdoor space or outdoor park.
05:44
The Lowline would really be a four-season space
05:46
and a respite for the city.
05:48
So I like to think that the Lowline actually brings
05:51
my own family's story full circle.
05:53
If my grandparents and my parents were really
05:55
focused on building the city up and out,
05:57
I think my generation is focused on reclaiming
06:01
the spaces that we already have,
06:03
rediscovering our shared history,
06:05
and reimagining how we can make our communities
06:07
more interesting, more beautiful and more just.
06:09
Thanks.
06:12
(Applause)
06:14

sponsored links

Dan Barasch - Strategist
Dan Barasch’s grandmother grew up in New York’s Lower East Side. Now, he’s building an underground park in her old neighborhood, where greenspace is limited.

Why you should listen

Dan Barasch is the co-founder and executive director of the Lowline, an underground park that is being developed underneath the streets of New York City—in the Williamsburg Bridge Trolley Terminal. In use from 1908 to 1948, this terminal is now abandoned. The Lowline will be a one-acre park in a neighborhood where greenspace is hard to come by. The project uses innovative solar technology to capture light above ground and distribute it below, making it a space that can be used in all four seasons. Once a wild idea, the project got a big boost on Kickstarter, raising more than $155,000 for its development in 2012. The project promises to be the inverse of New York's High Line.

Barasch has long known that he wanted to make a difference, but for years, wasn't quite sure how to go about doing that. Before he left his job to work fultime on the Lowline, he led strategic partnerships at PopTech; held multiple roles at Google; and worked in small business development in New York City government. He also consulted for UNICEF in Nairobi and with the 9/11 Survivors’ Fund in Washington DC. He began his career at the World Affairs Council in San Francisco, co-producing the weekly NPR show “It’s Your World.”

sponsored links

If you need translations, you can install "Google Translate" extension into your Chrome Browser.
Furthermore, you can change playback rate by installing "Video Speed Controller" extension.

Data provided by TED.

This website is owned and operated by Tokyo English Network.
The developer's blog is here.