Under Delancey Street on Manhattan’s Lower East Side lurks 60,000 square feet of vaulted ceilings and cobbled streets, sitting unappreciated in the dark. The Williamsburg Bridge railway terminal was abandoned in 1948, and has now become the focus of a group of entrepreneurs with an ambitious plan: to pipe natural light underground and create a subterranean park.
The precise technology developed by James Ramsey, architect and co-founder of the project, is being kept under wraps until a demonstration is set up. But Ramsey has hinted at the use of fibre optic cables to channel sunlight.
Will New Yorkers take to this unconventional idea as they have done with other urban parks? The bar has been set uncommonly high with the completion of the second phase of the High Line in July. This ‘linear park’ was originally an elevated railway threatened with demolition. Now it’s a grassy ribbon stretching over the streets.
Its redevelopment has preserved some of the city’s most striking industrial heritage and lifted almost six million visitors out of the traffic. It is no surprise that similar projects have begun to spring up in Philadelphia, Chicago and Rotterdam.
The Delancey Underground is certainly more audacious than the High Line, but is it practical? “It’s a totally bizarre, fun idea but I think it makes a lot of natural sense”, Ramsay insists. But there are many questions to be answered, says Dr Nikolaos Karadimitriou, expert in urban regeneration at University College London. “Is this project going to generate an income stream of some sort and from what kind of activity or levy?” Community support could be crucial. It was that which made the difference in the case of the High Line.