The Uncommon Life

Delancey Underground: A Most Uncommon Commons

March 1, 2012

Here at UncommonGoods, we often emphasize the “uncommon” part of our name. But the “common good” part is just as important to us. When something comes along that promises a whole lot of both, we glow like Gummy Bear Lights.

Last year, our founder Dave Bolotsky signed on as an advisor to a very uncommon idea for the common good that’s being floated for the Lower East Side neighborhood of Manhattan where he lives and has long-time family roots: an underground park, proposed for a long-abandoned trolley car station that almost no one knew was there until recently.

This is what the station, officially called the  Williamsburg Bridge Railway Terminal, looks like now:

And this is how James Ramsey and Daniel Barasch, the visionaries behind the concept, imagine it could look if their fantastical and futuristic idea becomes real:

The site, which is owned by the MTA (Metropolitan Transportation Authority; they run the subway system), was so under the radar that MTA management didn’t even know about it. Ramsey learned of its existence from a former MTA engineer who’d been working on a subway line underground during the 1970s. He and Barasch went to the MTA archives in search of more information and, eureka! They found the original diagrams of the station.

In March of 2011, the MTA took them on a tour of the cavernous terminal, and their socks were knocked off. Ramsey, who, for his own design business, had been developing the concept of “sunlight irrigation” — using solar panels, reflective dishes, and fiber optics to bring sunlight where there isn’t any — flashed on what the dank, dark space could be like if it were flooded with natural light by the method he’d been working on. There could be plants! Trees, even! A park!

The “Delancey Underground,” which the press has dubbed the “Low Line” in a nod to the much-beloved, three-year-old High Line park created atop a stretch of abandoned elevated rail tracks on the west side of downtown Manhattan, has captured the imagination of New Yorkers, who are neither over-supplied with open, green space nor accustomed to having prime real estate appear out of nowhere.

And prime it is: There’ll be plenty of competition from housing, retail and other types of businesses when the MTA officially requests proposals for the development of the subterranean space. Because the MTA is seemingly always strapped for cash, Ramsey and Barasch, who are determined to submit the winning bid, are putting together models showing how the park could bring in significant revenue without losing its primary function as a public space.

Because it naturally takes a village to create a neighborhood commons, they’ve also been approaching neighborhood residents, groups, organizations, representatives, and businesses, with the goal of crafting a proposal created through a community-wide process with input from all who have a stake in what happens to the site. Recently they launched a Kickstarter page in hopes of raising enough cash to build a working prototype of the lighting system.

For a pledge of $5000, you’ll get a 12″ 3D model of the full-scale park. Hmmm, that sounds like a very good uncomm– Oh, we know, we’ve overdone that particular bit of wordplay. Let’s just say it sounds awesome.

“Before” photo: Danny Fuchs for The Delancey Underground

“After” photos: Architectural rendering by RAAD Studio/James Ramsey

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  • Reply ed Litvak March 1, 2012 at 11:47 am

    While we appreciate the link, Danny Fuchs shot that photo for the Delancey Underground team, not The Lo-Down. James and Dan were kind enough to let us use the image.

  • Reply julia March 1, 2012 at 12:23 pm

    Thanks Ed, we’ll get that fixed.

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