Lowline Lab: See the Park of the Future Before It’s Too Late!

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There’s a revolutionary new park coming to NYC and the only way to find this one will be to head down, underground. Currently in development, the groundbreaking “Lowline” is scheduled to open sometime in 2020, but you and your troop of urban explorers can — and should — visit the Lowline Lab right now. This wondrous and educational installation showcases the tech and science behind the urban renewal project, and we’re betting it’s unlike any park you or the kids have ever seen. (Go now! It closes in March!)

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photo: via Lowline Facebook page

The Lowdown on The Lowline
The name of this innovative park obviously invokes another, now widely-celebrated, green urban renewal project above (way above) ground: The Highline. There was a time when The Highline was the little park concept that could, a green vision for a long-neglected urban space, and The Lowline is its exciting successor to that title.

Creators James Ramsey and Dan Barasch first hatched the idea of an underground park in 2009; one Kickstarter campaign, two planning studies, an above ground model providing proof of concept and a few years later, The Lowline Lab debuted.

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photo: via Lowline Facebook page

Fab Lab
Constructed in an abandoned market on the Lower East Side just two blocks from the proposed site of the actual underground park, The Lowline Lab is a temporary installation which mimics the environment of The Lowline park and serves as a laboratory for controlled experiments related to the project.

It is here where visitors can see and learn first hand about the technology and systems that will enable The Lowline to grow and sustain plants underground. (Among them?: Solar optical devices that track the sun throughout the day and capture the most sunlight possible; protective tubes that deliver the light to a central distribution point, and a solar canopy that modulates and tempers the light for optimum growing conditions underground.)

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photo: via Lowline Facebook page

Come on In, It’s Green in Here!
The entrance to the Lab is a mock subway turnstile, and that’s a nod to the park’s eventual location: the abandoned underground trolley terminal at the Delancey Street train stop, which stood neglected for six decades.

Once you’re inside, a row of informational boards form a path to the main attraction: a green and tropical prototype of the subterranean park. Designed by Signe Nielsen of Mathews Nielsen and built by John Mini Distinctive Landscapes, the 1,000-square-foot “Lowline Lab landscape”, is composed of over 3,000 plants and dozens of unique varieties (including the just-added carnivorous Pitcher Plants!)

Aside from the posted explanations of the technological and natural elements at work here, there are plenty of highly-informed staff on hand to answer questions about the project, so don’t worry about having to explain all of it to the kids. If you’re lucky, you might even get to chat with the designers of the Lowline, Ramsey and Barasch, who can sometimes be found wandering around the space and are more than happy to talk to anyone about how the system works.

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photo: via Lowline Facebook page

Small Park, Big Concepts
The “park” itself it pretty small, but the ideas are here are big, and depending on your kid’s age and/or interest in things like solar energy, botany, urban planning, sustainability, or just saving the human race in general, there’s a lot to ponder and chew on here. (Over the years the project as a whole has become a vital center of youth education on all of these topics.)

That said, chairs and tables are set up around the space so the family can relax and enjoy the greenery. A small path leads down the middle of the park space, where you can find a little cave that the kids will love hiding inside of.

During the week, the Lowline Lab is filled hosting many educational school trips, but on weekends it’s open to anyone. Lots of events and activities are hosted here, from free meditation workshops to tours, and kids can take part in plant scavenger hunts or draw what they imagine the park to look like at any time.

On Februaury 21, the Lowline Lab will host an Essex Street Market Pop-Up from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Lots of vendors will be selling tasty grub to be enjoyed in the underground park. You can register here!

(To see the latest of what’s happening the the Lowline Lab, visit the project’s Facebook page or website.)

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Getting There
The Lowline Lab can be found at 140 Essex Street, in what used to be the Essex Fair Retail Market warehouse. You can follow up a trip to the lab by catching a glimpse of the actual space where the Lowline will be housed. Just visit the nearby JMZ train station at Delancey / Essex St., and you can see the abandoned space right next to the live train tracks.

Lowline Lab
$10 suggested donation
Sat. & Sun. 11 a.m.-5 pm through March 2016
140 Essex St.
Lower East Side
Online: thelowline.org

Have you visited the Lowline Lab? If so, tell us about your visit in the comments below!

—Yuliya Geikhman