Manhattan’s Lowline, a planned underground park project that stretched the concept of adaptive reuse to exciting and seemingly impossible new extremes, is no more. As first reported by Crain’s, funding for the estimated $83 million subterranean green space that would have been tucked deep beneath the Lower East Side within the long-abandoned Williamsburg Trolley Terminal has essentially dried up. This has forced the project to go “into dormancy” as Signe Nielsen, a landscape architect and member of the Lowline’s board of directors, explained to Crain’s. “We were unable to meet all of the benchmarks that were required, one of the most significant of which was to raise a substantial amount of money.” The Underground Development Foundation, the park’s nonprofit fundraising arm, launched two successful Kickstarter campaigns during the park’s early years, raising $150,000 in 2015 and $223,506 in 2015. As Crain’s notes, $3.7 million had been secured by the nonprofit after the project’s attention-grabbing launch in 2011—the same year that the second section of the High Line, a project that also famously harnesses New York City’s dormant transport infrastructure, opened to enormous fanfare on Manhattan’s far West Side. But public filings show that by the end of 2017, the nonprofit possessed little under $10,000 in funding. In 2016, the year that the Lowline received the formal green light from the city to proceed with the ambitious project, the foundation had $815,287 on hand. Obviously, such a visionary undertaking—one that involved reimagining a derelict subterranean space and employing emerging solar technology to reactivate it as a lush, community-centric park—came with a steep price tag. Regardless of fundraising struggles, the Lowline, which would have been New York City’s first underground park, was still slated for a 2021 opening as of last year. In a prescient 2016 interview with Fast Company, former Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development Alicia Glen noted there was a chance that the Lowline would never be fully realized, going on to say that such a risk was ultimately positive. “This is all upside,” she said at the time. “There’s a chance to take the unbelievable advances in technology and the creative spirit of New York and harness it to create a public space that no one could have imagined.” Speaking with AN, Lowline co-founder Dan Barasch mirrored Glen's earlier sentiments on the benefits of risk-taking while also suggesting that the Lowline is, in fact, “not over” despite the current absence of a fundraising-driven pulse first reported by Crain's. “It's going to get done,” Barasch said, going on to explain that the team is open to exploring other hidden spaces in New York and beyond that are ripe for rediscovery and reactivation. And the Lowline's current home on the Lower East Side certainly isn't out of the question for future work. Barasch expressed his frustration with the de Blasio administration and the “fundamental lack of public funding” for bold, risk-taking projects like the Lowline. Barasch mentioned a greenery-filled underground park in Seoul that's quite similar to the Lowline but benefited from greater public support from the city's government. “This was a project that always needed the city to be behind it,” he said. “We're going to wait for an administration that has the imagination and capital that a project like this requires.” While the Lowline may never see the light of day under the current mayoral administration, this isn’t to say that it failed to provide the curious public with a taste of what was (supposed to) come. From October 2015 through February 2017, the Lowline team operated the Lowline Lab, a non-subterranean space described as a “long-term open laboratory and technical exhibit designed to test and showcase how the Lowline will grow and sustain plants underground.” Free and open to the public during the weekends, the Lowline Lab welcomed 100,000 visitors over the course of its existence. The lab was housed in what was once part of Essex Street Market, and is now the Essex Crossing mega-development. The idea for a public space that made use of the old Williamsburg Bridge Trolley Terminal was first conceived as the Delancy Underground by Barasch and James Ramsey in 2009. When the Lowline launched two years later, the duo envisioned it as an obvious inverse of the wildly popular—but controversial—elevated High Line. It would, however, ultimately been an entirely different, more futuristic creature. At 1.5 acres compared to the High Line’s 6.7 acres, the Lowline would have placed a greater emphasis on innovation and technology as well as on fostering community engagement.
Posts tagged with "Signe Nielsen":
Hugging the looped entrance to the Holland Tunnel on Broome Street, Freeman Plaza West is a “found” public space in Manhattan that’s been reimagined as a peaceful parkland for area workers to remove themselves from the car-ridden bustle of the surrounding streetscape. The two-acre green space is the talk of the surrounding Hudson Square, and not just because its the newest non-desk place to eat lunch in the post-industrial Manhattan neighborhood. The project was conceived by the Hudson Square Business Improvement District (BID) and designed by Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects (MNLA). Freeman Plaza is spread out over three adjacent landscapes—a west, east, and north plaza (the former two are finished). The spaces feature simple interventions such as tables, chairs, decking, solar-powered charging stations, turf lawn, book lending kiosks, public art, and programming, all input gradually over a period of several years. Because of the plaza’s close connection to the Holland Tunnel, where 12 lanes of traffic merge into two, the architects aimed to make a quiet place where congestion and noise were nearly imperceptible. Signe Nielsen, MNLA’s founding principal, said the firm was led by the question: “How can we make a true public space in the middle of 45,000 cars?” “It has truly been an adventure in tactical urbanism,” Nielsen said. “Although this is a somewhat overwrought term, we’ve been implementing opportune interventions on a fairly unlikely site slowly and steadily, and at low-cost.”
Over 40,000 people work in Hudson Square. The majority of them, due to the types of companies the area attracts, are young, mobile workers under 35 who are tech-savvy, transient, and seek time away from the office during the day. Freeman Plaza, Nielsen said, isn’t in a typical location for a park, but it offers the same respite a park might, while being somewhat of a shock to the local population—simply because it’s an actual green space with already mature trees in a non-green area. “Most people don’t think of Freeman Plaza as a destination; it’s a surprise,” Nielsen said. “We virtually created a complete buffer from the outside world so psychologically it feels like you’re not in the middle of traffic.” Freeman Plaza is the third “found” space in Hudson Square, identified as part of an initiative to amplify public space and rebrand the district. Hudson Square BID and MNLA released an award-winning masterplan in 2012 called “Hudson Square is Now” that gave way to a more sustainable streetscape with 250 newly-planted or retrofitted trees and a stormwater management system. Nielsen sees this type of casual, gradual landscape design as a way to help beautify and reclaim urban spaces in any city, especially areas that are walkable but also dependent on cars. She notes that observing the city with an eagle eye is key when siting underutilized areas located directly off of major pieces of transportation infrastructure. “You’ve got to look around in a very greedy kind of way,” she said. “Ask, where can I grab land for people? What would it take to allow the public into this space? Sometimes the most unlikely places appear.” Freeman Plaza West opened to the public earlier this spring, following the initial build-out of Freeman Plaza East in 2014. MNLA’s design for the new Spring Street Park, located one block from Freeman Plaza, unofficially opened to the public last month.View this post on Instagram
Ever since a terrorist in a rental truck sped down the Hudson River Park Bikeway in Lower Manhattan this past October 31, killing eight pedestrians and cyclists and injuring 11 others, the popular bike path has been in lockdown mode. Unsightly concrete Jersey Barriers have been temporarily placed at the entrances off the highway onto the bike path narrowing rights of way for cyclists, and police cruisers are monitoring crossings into the adjacent Hudson River Park. The recent terrorist attack has sparked calls to fortify the bike path against further incidents, and the state department of transportation, which oversees the bike path, is studying the issue. Recently, Signe Nielsen, a principal of Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects, which designed the bikeway, spoke to AN contributor Alex Ulam about how we can better safeguard the public realm and her concerns that planners will start fencing off public spaces with an excessive number of bollards. The Architect’s Newspaper: What would the solution be for preventing a future attack like the one that occurred on the Hudson River Park Bikeway? Signe Nielsen: Well, I think there are larger issues. I’m astounded that in light of the mass murders—particularly in Las Vegas and now in Texas—that we don’t respond with gun control, and yet we are willing to act quickly in a reactionary way to a single threat. I think there’s another philosophical point: Are we a country that is going to live in fear or not? There is no way that we can bollard our entire world, and if we do, then someone will figure out something else. So I don’t even want to address whether a bollard is retractable, collapsible, telescoping, whatever; I don’t believe it’s the right approach fundamentally. We already have had cyclists mowed down on the bikeway by cars going off the highway by mistake. Yes, but sadly people get killed on bicycles all over the city all of the time by vehicles. All you have to do is look at the crash statistics on the Department of Transportation website and you know that the number of injuries or deaths on bikes has gone up because of more people riding bicycles. So, I think that we really have to separate out all of the issues, because if we bollard the entire West Side bike lane, X, Y, or Z terrorist is just going to go find another place to do it. But what measures can they take to prevent cars from going onto the bikeway by mistake? This problem has occurred at Pier 40 and it has occurred at Pier 76. There have been incidents where a driver doesn’t know where they’re supposed to turn or is not paying attention and starts wandering down the bikeway. So, they have put in stoplights for bikes and a single bollard to try to slow bikers down. But we are going to create a situation where it’s also going to be extremely difficult, if not near impossible, depending on what they decide to do with the spacing of those bollards, to be able to maintain the park. I’m not opposed to stopping an errant vehicle as long as the bikes can get through, the maintenance vehicles can get through, and an idiot driver can see it. But it’s a very, very different scenario than lining the West Side Highway with bollards. There is a yellow bollard at Pier 76 that was installed after the accidents. If, for some reason, we want to behave in a reactionary way, then I think that the use of a high curb that provides some level of flood protection and planting soil is a better way to go than bollards. A higher curb is not an obstruction to cyclists, and it certainly looks integral to the design.
Today Extell Development got the green light from City Council to build Riverside Center on one of the last major parcels of land at the edge of the Upper West Side. Among several concessions made to the community, the developer agreed to sink $17.5 million into Riverside Park, build a 100,000 square foot school, renovate a recreation center on West 59th Street and build 500 affordable housing units (though much of it offsite). The 3.1 million square foot project includes a series of towers designed by Christian de Portzamparc between 59th and 61st streets and will provide as much open space as Lincoln Center, the architect told AN last year. Portzamparc worked with landscape designer Signe Nielsen to break up an existing superblock and create a view corridor that extends toward the Riverside Park. Like most mixed-use projects, the developer said public amenities, such as grocery stores and the school, would fill the base of the towers.