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Dan Barasch: Rethinking Public Space With The Lowline Park [PSFK 2013]

The co-founder of the new urban enclave discusses why people are fascinated by the idea of an underground park.

Betsy Mead
Betsy Mead on April 12, 2013.

As part of the run-up to PSFK CONFERENCE 2013 in New York this April, PSFK will be publishing a series of short interviews with speakers to give a taste of what will be discussed in this meeting of creative minds. Dan Barasch is the co-founder of The Lowline, an underground park on New York’s Lower East Side.  He spoke to PSFK about the project and how transforming hidden urban spaces can change the attitude of a city.

You will be speaking about The Lowline at a conference April 12. What inspired you to create it?

My partner and fellow Co-Founder, James Ramsey, is the creator of the Lowline concept. He and his design firm, Raad Studio, developed a solar technology that directs sunlight underground, and he also befriended a transit expert who alerted him to the presence of a vast unused former trolley terminal. Over too many drinks one night, James mentioned a seemingly insane idea to me: bringing sunlight into this underground space, enabling plants and trees to grow. I had separately been working on a proposal to bring art into the New York City subways, and was immediately thrilled by the potential of reclaiming this remnant space and introducing cutting edge “green” technology to transform it. Together, we have been working on bringing this vision to life for the last few years, and it only gets more exciting as we get closer to our goal.

Why do you think the idea of an underground park will be so appealing? Do you see it becoming a trend?

The underground park idea has generated interest from all over the world, and I think it’s because it has multiple very exciting elements. It involves the “discovery” of forgotten treasures in the urban fabric– something that appeals to anyone who loves historic architecture, transit, or public infrastructure. It involves the promise of new technology to improve the quality of life in crowded, messy 21st century cities. It engages anyone with a mischievous, creative design sensibility. And it connects to this deep sense that city dwellers desperately need new public spaces in which to daydream, interact, and get a rare respite from a fast pace of life. I think underground public spaces are already a trend: similar groups in Washington, D.C. and London are exploring similar concepts, and we’ve fielded questions from city visionaries from Dallas to Ankara to Kyoto.

How do you think the need to save space will impact the movement of entities such as parks to move either underground or vertical, as in, on top of buildings?

Cities like New York have grown up and out over time, and we’ve learned that sprawl and skyscrapers do not necessarily create the conditions for successful, livable cities. Public spaces are often the glue that draw residents together, in ways that are only more important in a digital age. New York City is a densely populated environment with a historic lack of public or green space per resident, and the current interest in building parks underground or farms on rooftops is, I think, just the beginning of the hopeful takeback of city land for public use. As we get smarter about urban design, and draw real communities into the public design process, we are increasingly building cities that reflect more than short-term corporate or real estate interests, but the kinds of gathering spots we want for our kids and grandkids. Or, perhaps more simply: people love parks, and people are feeling more empowered than ever to build their own, wherever they can.

Thanks Dan!

Please join us on April 12th to hear Dan speak about The Lowline at PSFK CONFERENCE 2013.

To learn more about PSFK CONFERENCE 2013, click here, and to watch the live stream go to PSFK.com, where the action will be live until 5:30pm EST.

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