When I first caught wind of the Lowline back in 2012, I immediately wrote it off as being too gimmicky.

First, there was the name. Catchy, true, but also a bit too eager to pay homage — and also differentiate itself from — its inverse inspiration: the High Line.

Envisioned to take root in a long-abandoned transit station on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, the underground park project struck me as a pipe dream — a pipe dream with honest-to-goodness piped-in natural sunlight — that despite one-not-so-insignificant difference would eventually get lost amongst the sea of other High Line-inspired urban parks popping up around the globe. For a while there, it seemed that every city was working on an adaptive reuse-minded linear park project, some more memorable — and feasible — than others. I figured that the Lowline, perhaps too quixotic for its own good, would fizzle out and another even daringly left-field concept would quickly take its place.

I figured wrong.

Bolstered by the runaway successes of two Kickstarter campaigns, celebrity cheerleading and continued interest from the general public, the Lowline has evolved into something more tangible, something more thoughtful and, well, something more impressive.

This is particularly true with regards to the park's “remote skylight” solar technology. Developed by James Ramsey of Raad Studio, the system, in a nutshell, would use fiber optic cables and solar collection dishes to transport natural sunlight down into a cavernous site tucked away under Delancey Street — enough natural sunlight to allow for photosynthesis which, in turn, would meant that a variety of plants and trees could grow in a place where the words “verdant” or “park” would normally never, ever apply.

The Lowline, Lower East Side, Manhattan Manhattan's Lower East Side neighborhood isn't exactly known for its profuse greenery. The Lowline aims to change that. (Rendering: The Lowline)

The Lowline’s STEAM-focused youth education programs have also left me impressed. The same goes for the Lowline Lab, a permanent technical exhibit of sorts used to showcase the cutting-edge solar technology and drum up interest in the subterranean park proposal. The Lowline Lab is located in an aboveground space adjacent to the Essex Street Market, just down the street — and above the sidewalk — from the actual 1-acre Lowline site, which itself is located next to — and is accessible from — a functioning subway station, the Delancey-Essex Street Street stop on the F, J, M and Z lines. This YouTube video has more info on The Lowline Lab:

And so just as the Lowline has matured and evolved, so have my thoughts on the proposal that aims to “reclaim unused space for public good.” Despite my early reservations about the name, the potential for unchecked gentrification/tourist overload (a legitimate concern of many Lower East Side residents) and my own High Line fatigue, the Lowline promises to be a completely different beast than the tourist-snaring elevated park located across town. I'm excited for it.

It would also appear that City Hall is excited for what would the “world’s first underground park."

Late last week, the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) joined Alicia Glen, the city’s Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development, to bestow the Lowline's design team with the city's full (conditional) permission to develop a public park in a neglected but still architecturally intact 60,000-square-foot site that, in a past life, functioned as the Williamsburg Bridge Trolley Terminal before being all but forgotten in the late 1940s.

It’s a go.

A press statement issued by the NYCEDC heralds the Lowline as “a unique opportunity to shape the future of the City through innovation, deep community engagement, education, and youth development” and as “an international model for the adaptive reuse and cultivation of abandoned underground spaces.”

The NYCEDC is also quick to point out that the Lowline will bring a much-needed swath of greenery — albeit greenery that one must travel beneath the city streets to enjoy — to the tree-deprived Lower East Side.

Says Glen: “New York City never stops innovating — that’s what makes us the greatest city in the world. The Lowline represents an incredible fusion of technology and public space. For 80 years, this underground space has sat idle. Now we’re putting it to use for the people of the Lower East Side and for all New Yorkers to enjoy. We can’t wait to see this experiment unfold.”

As for the visionaries behind the Lowline, they’re also clearly excited to have leapt over this formidable bureaucratic hurdle. ““We couldn't be more thrilled for this opportunity to turn a magical dream into reality," says Dan Barasch, the Lowline’s co-founder and executive director. “The transformation of an old, forgotten trolley terminal into a dynamic cultural space designed for a 21st century city is truly a New York story.”

The Lowline, Lower East Side, Manhattan Much like the High Line, the Lowline is set around long-abandoned rail tracks. With one key difference .... (Rendering: The Lowline)

Getting the thumbs up from the city is no doubt a victory — but Barasch and co. still have a ways to go before the Lowline starts welcoming visitors as a tech-centric downtown ‘n’ underground counterpart to the High Line.

For one, as part of the city’s conditional designation, the Lowline must raise $10 million in funds over the next year. Furthermore, the Lowline must develop and enact a “robust” community engagement plan as well as complete schematic design documents and submit them for approval within the next 12 months. Needless to say, these things take time.

If all goes as planned and the Lowline emerges victorious from the sea of red tape that it's about to plunge head-first into, the world's first underground park will open to the public in 2021.

In the meantime, I wouldn’t be surprised if, just like the frenzy of elevated green spaces that emerged post-High Line, other park projects that take advantage of disused infrastructure buried deep beneath the city streets start to emerge across the country. Perhaps this time I’ll be more receptive to them.

Via [The Verge]

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.