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Urban renewal: Kickstarting underground urban development

Posting in Architecture

KickStarter raises funds for the goal of perfecting the Delancey Underground urban project in New York City.

The idea of establishing a park on Manhattan's Lower East Side received backers and interest over a decade ago -- only for the idea to remain stalled for some time. Now, supporters of the idea are taking a low-key approach, transforming local support into much more -- by the use of start-up fundraiser Kickstarter.

Co-founders Dan Barasch and James Ramsey are the minds behind the Delancey Underground project. James is the owner of RAAD Studio and is a former NASA engineer. Dan runs the Delancey Underground day-to-day, and is a promoter of social innovation across various platforms and publications.

The Low Line project, which aims to transform an abandoned trolley terminal close to New York's Williamsburg Bridge into a park, has now become a popular online campaign which has already raised thousands in the attempt.

The project will involve 'piping' sunlight using fiber-optic technology beneath Delancey Street (where the trolley terminal is located) to reflect light underground, reducing the cost of electricity and resultant carbon emissions. Not only does it intend to use solar technology, but the subterranean public park will support plants, tress and grass to thrive underground.

The technology has been designed by co-founder James Ramsey. Solar collectors on street level collect sunlight during the day, and that light is then reflected in the underground park. According to the team, the wavelengths transported support photosynthesis but are not hash enough to emit ultraviolet rays which may be harmful to skin. It is likely to involve lengthy development and measures to combat the future issues of flooding and a means to include emergency backup power, but the idea is valuable in terms of sustainable light and innovation in constricted urban space.

This kind of urban design and green technology represents more than simply a park -- but raises the issues of urban crowding and how design can be used not only to revitalize a discarded area -- a means of 'recycling' space shortages creatively -- but how space can be used both above and below ground.

There are other examples of such a use of space, including:

  • Zurich, Switzerland: Railway arches developed in to shops, restaurants and a marketplace.
  • Lisbon, Berlin and Barcelona: Nightclubs created from 160 conventional 1000-litre water tanks.
  • London: London's 'Village Underground' converts disused train carriages in to artist studios.

The project's team hope that the park will stand for a number of creative expressions and events:

"The Delancey Underground project envisions a year-round programming series, which invites the community into the space in new ways. From art exhibitions, to farmers’ markets, to educational series, tospecial events and promotions– this space will be more than a space. It will generate community, and it will inspire in the way beautiful environments can inspire."

At the time of writing, the project has 2,131 backers, and has managed to smash through its goal of $100,000. 32 supporters have pledged a total of $123,179 to date -- which means the project development is likely to be on the horizon, with a "mini-Lowline" demo to be built for September.

Image credit: Delancy Underground

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Charlie Osborne

Contributing Editor

Charlie Osborne is a freelance journalist and photographer based in London. In addition to SmartPlanet, she also writes for business technology website ZDNet and consumer technology site CNET. She holds a degree in medical anthropology from the University of Kent. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure