Under the Elevated

New York City launches pilot to activate highway underpasses in Sunset Park

East Urbanism
New York City pilots design to activate spaces under highways in Sunset Park. A view of the pilot el-space under the Gowanus Expressway in Sunset Park. (Courtesy NYC DOT via Twitter)
New York City pilots design to activate spaces under highways in Sunset Park. A view of the pilot el-space under the Gowanus Expressway in Sunset Park. (Courtesy NYC DOT via Twitter)

It’s hard to imagine that in a city like New York, any space would be permitted to go to waste. However, the spaces underneath bridges, expressways, and elevated trains are often more or less voids, disused and often altogether unpleasant. However, The Design Trust for Public Space is trying to change that with “el-spaces” that activate and reimagine these shadowy locales. The Design Trust has partnered with the city’s Department of Transportation to create the Under the Elevated/El-Space pilot program, which just launched its first physical site test last night under the Gowanus Expressway in Sunset Park.

This first el-space is a test site to show off planning methods that better connect residents to the waterfront and make the space safer for pedestrians, all while serving as a form of “green infrastructure” to improve environmental health. After a series of community charrettes and pop-up workshops, this pilot design was realized by three of the Design Trust’s fellows: Tricia Martin (landscape architecture), Quilian Riano (urban design), and Leni Schwendinger (lighting). The pilot features planters of greenery that thrive in low light on elevated platforms below large stormwater drains, and extend the public space away from cars while offering an alternative pathway for pedestrians. It also came with a fresh paint job for the adjacent support structures, brightening the area and setting it apart from the rest of the highway trusses. The pilot is also intended to offer replicable techniques that could be deployed throughout the city’s millions of square miles of underutilized space.

A stormwater drain at the El Space pilot (Courtesy Quilian Riano via Twitter)

The el-spaces are intended to increase urban livability in more than one way. Frequently, infrastructure is built in lower-income areas, bisecting neighborhoods and contributing pollution and congestion. The el-spaces help ameliorate these effects and promote greater health and connectivity in neighborhoods. 

The el-space pilot site launched as part of NYCxDESIGN. Its official opening was followed by a panel conversation that included participants who have worked on similar projects in other cities. Following this Brooklyn launch, The Design Trust for Public Space is planning two additional el-spaces in Queens, with hopes to spread them under the city’s 700 miles of elevated infrastructure.

(Courtesy DSGN AGNC/Quilian Riano)

El Space Pilot Rendering (Courtesy DSGN AGNC/Quilian Riano)

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