Growing up in a quiet suburban town in Connecticut, transitioning to a college located in the heart of Boston proved to be an abrupt culture shock. Accustomed to secluded trails and vivid autumns, I found myself yearning for wide open spaces. I aimlessly wandered the bustling Boston streets, hoping to find peace of mind somewhere in the midst of all of the intersections. The city would be much more comforting if only it provided a natural sanctuary.

New Yorkers must have felt similarly, because the city’s Lowline project in the Lower East Side is hoping to prove that with innovation and time, nature and cities don’t have to be incompatible.

If the city fully approves the plans, the Lowline will be a permanent underground park assembled in a former trolley station that, until now, had been abandoned for years. The earliest the Lowline is expected to open to the public is 2021, when it hopes to further agricultural education and provide an unconventional setting of natural solace to urban dwellers.

The project has also included a nearby laboratory space, which is designed to test how plants can be grown and sustained underground. So how doplants obtain the resources necessary for survival in an underground environment? The engineers behind the Lowline developed a system for tracking sunlight in the sky, capturing it, then distributing it to the underground space through protective tubes. A solar canopy awaits to spread the rays across the entirety of the space.

A great deal of brainpower, experience and tenacity is required to formulate and implement such a system. Co-founder James Ramsey realized the possibilities for this type of solar technology while working at NASA. His counterpart, Dan Barasch, is a former Google strategist.

The Lowline Lab is due to close in March of 2017, but until then, positive use is beingmade of the temporary lab space through the Young Designers Program. During weekdays, children visit the lab to learn about the science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) that go into the Lowline. It also serves as a youth mentorship and job-training site for Young Ambassadors who are eligible to receive a scholarship for their participation in the program.

Along with providing opportunities for STEAM education, this addition to the city would open doors to new technologies that could be implemented in urban settings throughout the world. The Lowline has the potential to challenge society’s preconceptions regarding the amount of nature that cities can accommodate.

Did You Know?

The recorded height for the tallest sunflower ever is 30 feet 1 inch. It was grown in Germany by Hans-Peter Schiffer, who has held the record twice before.

Image credit: Mike Castleman