While I’ve burned a lot of pixels on the QueensWay recently, the city’s other rails-to-park project is slowly inching forward. The LowLine, an ambitious plan to bring natural light underground in order to turn the Essex St. Trolley Terminal into a park, has garnered a lot of attention as a creative idea. Not surprisingly, I’ve been very skeptical about a plan that involves during unused transit infrastructure into a green space, but the organizers have assured me that there is no real transit use for it in 2013.
Lately, in between fundraisers and Kickstarters, the LowLine has developed a following of politicos. Last month, Manhattan representatives urged the EDC and MTA to work out a transfer of the space. The letter claimed that the Delancey Underground park “could generate at least $15-$30 million in economic benefit to the city by way of increased sales, hotel and real estate taxes and incremental land value,” and a Who’s Who of New York politicians, including our two senators, members of Congress, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, State Senator Dan Squadron and Council Members Rosie Mendez and Margaret Chin, all appended their names to the effort.
And yet, the money needed is very problematic. While the founders have been able to fundraise minimal amounts to put together prototypes and other exhibits, Kim Velsey in The Observer highlighted the considerable obstacles that remain. Construction could cost anywhere from $42-$70 million, and annual maintenance would run around $2.4-$4 million. Even the most popular parks in New York can’t cover their expenses from concession revenues.
The park proposal has had more staying power than I ever imagined it would, but I still grow uneasy about turning over transit infrastructure to anything other than transit. It’s exceedingly difficult to find money and the will to build new transit spaces in New York City. Reserving pre-existing ones for future uses should be a priority. The LowLine is a creatively futuristic idea, but can it ever be anything more than that?