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James Ramsey Is About To Change The World. Maybe.

This month, the city approved the proposal for Lowline Park, the world’s first underground park on the Lower East Side. Expected to open in 2021, the $60M project—created and co-founded by Raad Studio’s James Ramsey (top right in our photo below) and Dan Barasch (bottom right)—will transform an abandoned trolley terminal under Delancey Street into a one-acre park.


Using a system of fiber-optic cables and mirrors to transmit “remote sunlight” underground—which has already been utilized at the Lowline Lab at the Essex Street Market—the Lowline will support a cornucopia of life. The project has enjoyed two successful Kickstarters and support from both celebrities and the general public. 

The city’s approval came with stipulations, however. Before full approval can be given, James and Dan have to raise $10M in 12 months, create schematic design documents and frequently engage with the community. We spoke with James—a Yale-educated architect, designer and former NASA satellite engineer—to get a sense of what it was like to get approval, and how these future hurdles will be handled.


Bisnow: How does it feel to finally have approval?

James Ramsey: “Finally” is definitely the word I’d use: we started trying to gain control of the site in 2010. It’s an amazing sense of achievement that we’ve gotten this far. That said, it’s a colossally complex project and we couldn’t have a more difficult site. So we have a lot of homework to do. So while we're elated to finally have approval, there’s apprehension about what we have to do next.

Bisnow: Are you confident the tech can translate to the Delancey Street site?

James: We’ve built a life-sized mockup at the Lowline Lab, and it’s keeping a lot of plants alive. The physics is sound, the engineering is sound and it’s reliable, so it was a huge step for us to be able to execute a scaled version of this. The site is complicated, but we've been working on it for a while and have accounted for the site conditions. 

Bisnow: Who are you looking at to raise $10M? Do you believe the city’s approval gives you more sway, or will you still need to give pitches?

James: Dan handles more of the financial side, but I can say we have the endorsement of every elected official remotely connected to this site, and we plan on lobbying all of them. We also have a group of private donors and pledges that have supported the project for years. The combination of public funding, philanthropic trusts and private pledges makes me confident we can reach that goal, especially since the city has shown it’s eager to move forward with this project. We still need to explain how and why the tech works, but we’re in a much better standing for something than we would be otherwise.


Bisnow: Another condition is that you have to have public meetings to discuss the project. How are you preparing to deal with any questions and misconceptions the public will have?

James: This is a different project than most, but it's intended to provide utility for the community. Schools in the area are going to be the primary users, so having their input on how they would like to use the space is at the absolute center of what we want to do. We don’t really want to start the design process until we’ve culled suggestions from the people around it. 

Bisnow: A major worry about the project is that it will gentrify the area. Do you agree that this is a concern?

James: That’s always a concern with any project in any neighborhood. But that neighborhood is not only old and has a lot of culture and tradition, but is undergoing a ton of development and change right now. They’re about to put 2M SF of new development next door to the Lowline. What we intend to do is provide green space that’s not otherwise there. 

Bisnow: Is the future of NYC development underground?

James: My design firm has already been solicited from property owners and global municipalities to take advantage of underground spaces. 75% of the population is going to live in megacities in the next few decades, so we need to figure out how we can best take advantage of every bit of space we have.

Related Topics: The Lowline, James Ramsey