Whether or not you’ve set foot on it or not, you’re probably at least vaguely familiar with the High Line. Immaculately manicured and unceasingly mobbed, the linear park situated atop an old railway line spans Manhattan's Far West Side — a once-colorful (read: slightly dodgy, plenty gritty and completely enchanting) area that’s been buffed, polished and primped beyond recognition in recent years to make way for shiny new luxury developments and hordes of well-heeled out-of-towners.
Since the first phase of the High Line was completed in 2009, a host of other works of defunct and abandoned urban infrastructure have been reborn in the same mold; high-profile projects, some realized and some not, that transform blighted eyesores into innovative and smartly designed public spaces. The list is an ever-expanding one, with many but certainly not all of these projects sharing a common trait: they’re elevated.
The Design Trust for Public Space, the New York City-based nonprofit organization that conducted the 2001 feasibility study that eventually lead to the creation of the High Line, has also recognized the untapped potential in unloved and overlooked spaces existing directly beneath existing elevated infrastructure: subway lines, highways, railway bridges and the like. In fact, New York City is home to nearly 700 miles of these neglected nooks and crannies — an area roughly four times the size of Central Park.
Many tucked-away “el-spaces” remain largely hidden away out of sight and out of mind to a majority of Big Apple residents and visitors — and sometimes for good reason as these largely deserted and dimly lit areas can be a bit iffy. They’re often viewed as places to be avoided, bypassed, taken the long away around. The Design Trust for Public Space views them as an opportunity for regeneration and renewal. And in an increasingly cramped metropolis, every little bit of space that can be used for the public good matters.
Published in June following a two-year study conducted by the Design Trust in partnership with the Department of Transportation, “Under the Elevated: Reclaiming Space, Connecting Communities” sheds light on seven elevated infrastructure-cloaked parcels ripe for reclamation. Together, these spaces “represent an untapped public asset that has the potential to radically transform New York’s urban fabric.”
Writes Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg in the prefaces to the study:
‘Under the Elevated’ puts New York City at the forefront of the growing national and international trend of addressing and reclaiming aging elevated transportation infrastructure and the spaces associated with it. It is the first major urban initiative to propose a comprehensive approach in dealing with these spaces citywide.
The seven different core case studies spotlighted in the study are spread across four of the five boroughs: the Gowanus Expressway (Brooklyn), Broadway Junction (Brooklyn), Southern Boulevard (Bronx), Division Street (Manhattan), the Kew Gardens Interchange (Queens), Highbridge Park (Manhattan) and, last but not least, the Queensboro Bridge (Queens and Manhattan).
Broadway Junction, a hub of elevated subway lines in the East New York section of Brooklyn. (Photo: molybedena/flickr)
While the study goes into detail as to how each individual parcel would be transformed, the Smithsonian recently published a quick yet informative look at each of the "realistic, context-specific design and programming recommendations" with insight from Susannah Drake, an architect and Design Trust fellow. In my own backyard, for example, the Design Trust envisions pedestrians paths, a fleet of food trucks and a series of modular, pollution-mitigating bioswales to go directly under the (absolutely terrifying) Gowanus Expressway.
Vacant areas under another major roadway, the Queensboro Bridge, would be populated not by parks but by groovy electric vehicle charging stations.
Some of the case studies have involved pop-up prototypes.
In the spring of 2014, the Design Trust and DOT launched a pop-up installation on a particularly infernal stretch of Division Street — “dark and dirty from vehicle emissions and bridge runoff, and noisy due to trains running on the bridge above” — located underneath the landing of the Manhattan Bridge in Chinatown. Drawn by red LED lights that improve visibility in the shadowy space, neighborhood residents congregated around temporary seating and a nifty community calendar/bulletin board installed along the underpass in collaboration with project community partner, Chinatown Partnership. "Under the Elevated" envisions the area being further spruced up with vegetative green walls to reduce noise and pollution.
Also in 2014, the Design Trust launched a second prototype space, this one under the 2/5 line subway trestle along Southern Boulevard in the South Bronx. Dubbed the Boogie Down Booth, this “temporary resting area” featured solar-powered lighting and directional speakers that filled the space, normally dominated by the screech, rattle and roar of trains passing overhead, with the music of Bronx-based artists.
Says Susan Chin, executive director of the Design Trust for Public Space, in a statement:
Design Trust first brought attention to under the elevated sites with its pivotal study to reclaim the High Line. In 2001 we asserted that ‘spaces under the High Line must be given equal or greater attention as programming for the High Line’s upper deck because of their importance in shaping the urban context at the ground level’. Not every neighborhood needs a High Line, however the need to alleviate the negative impact from the presence of elevated lines is even greater in the outer boroughs. It’s time to channel public and private investment into creating vibrant and resilient communities throughout the five boroughs. Engaging neighborhood residents and community partners in the planning process is a great way to meet their needs and create cherished spaces for living.
Head on over to the Design Trust for Public Space to learn more about National Endowment for the Arts-supported “Under the Elevated” project — and to purchase a copy of the 128-page study itself, if so inclined.
Is there a neglected space located near an elevated road or railway near you that you'd like to see transformed into a public space? If so, what do you imagine that space looking like?
Via [Smithsonian.com], [Crain's]
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