At times the Lowline, an underground park planned near the Delancey and Essex street stops, seems like a distant imagining for the Lower East Side, in an area particularly devoid of public green space. The idea was first thought up in 2009 by James Ramsey and Dan Barasch, and as a way of keeping the dream alive their organization has engaged the community on multiple levels. Most recently, the Lowline has tapped into the imaginations of local kids who have turned out surprising results.
The Lowline organization has been working out a design that would involve futuristic solar technology that would bring light underground to various plants and trees. Park planners anticipate the Lowline could be completed by 2018, if the MTA would only turn over its abandoned trolley station.
In the meantime, an exhibition at the Mark Miller Gallery shows us what it could look like. The Lower East Side gallery looks as though it’s been pirated by a band of well-organized middle schoolers, which is partially true. The Lowline coordinated with six Lower East Side organizations that in turn recruited 95 kids to create renderings of their visions for an ideal underground park.
Using colorful clay, popsicle sticks, and other crafty materials, kids worked together to produce traditional landscape layouts that hang on the walls as well as some less professional but nevertheless intriguing mixed-media models that look like flattened neon gingerbread houses.
Sure, things like enormous mushrooms, holographic clouds, and a tree-sized penguin (to scale) are definitely bordering on fantasy and plans for a candy apple stand and “rainbow laser tag” are certainly kid-centric. But the Lowline also understood this initiative as an educational opportunity for the participating kids. “Grand Street Settlement set up meetings with local seniors,” explained Robyn Shapiro, the organization’s Director of Community. “This offered them a full perspective of all the people who would be using the park.”
And the influence of this understanding — that the park is meant to be of service to everyone living in the diverse neighborhood — is apparent in some of the more widely appealing amenities dreamed up by the kids. These include a cafe, rock climbing wall, trolley car turned min-history museum, hammock corral, and a glass elevator — all practical things to a certain extent, but they still maintain that characteristic uninhibited weirdness kids can bring to the table.
And hey, we’d be pretty OK if the real thing ended up as Alice in Wonderland as these renderings are. Who was it that wrote that getting inside kids’ heads requires adults to understand that kids are basically just adults on loads of psychedelics? We could all just stop taking mushrooms in McCarren Park and have a similar hallucinatory experience at the Lowline instead.