I told you Spacing Magazine was cool.
One of the new feature to their online portal (www.spacingtoronto.ca for those of you who live in Hogtown) is something called Urban Planet, which highlights some cool city-building initiatives happening around the world. I won’t steal their thunder and post Urban Planet ideas here every week, but one post this week caught my attention, because it has some pretty neat thoughts in relation to Toronto. Without further ado, the underground park:
For those of you who don’t like clicking through, here’s a brief summary from the LowLine wesbite:
The Delancey Underground project aims to convert an unused trolley terminal beneath Delancey Street into an extraordinary subterranean public park– nicknamed the “LowLine.” Inspired by the amazing impact of the High Line, local businesses, residents, community leaders, and political stakeholders alike have voiced considerable enthusiasm for the idea. We are now focused on increasing this broad public support, and are preparing in earnest to make this vision a reality.
But the Delancey Underground is more than an economic revitalization opportunity– it also represents cutting edge design and a new generation of green technology. It is at the heart of a broader global discussion about the potential of remnant urban infrastructure, and the need for cities to re-invent the meaning of space– above and below ground. The project also envisions a fresh approach to solar technology– using innovative fiber optics to reflect light underground, saving electricity and reducing carbon emissions, and generating the capacity for plants, trees, and grasses to thrive indoors. The “LowLine” is essentially part of the next phase in urban design, in which human scale and increasing resource scarcity force us to imagine smarter, more creative use of public spaces.
What will this underground green space become? As the High Line has proven, a stunning public park can provide tremendous opportunities for creative expression, while challenging assumptions of the way humans work, live, commute, and interact. The Delancey Underground project envisions a year-round programming series, which invites the community into the space in new ways. From art exhibitions, to farmers’ markets, to educational series, tospecial events and promotions– this space will be more than a space. It will generate community, and it will inspire in the way beautiful environments can inspire.
So. How does this:
The fibre-optic technology offered by this new project is really cool. The video in the article above demonstrates a small example of how enough natural light to allow for photosynthesis can penetrate deep in the subterranean vault of the Lower East Side of NYC.
And what does it really matter for Toronto?
In case you missed out on all the winter fun, Toronto is home to the largest underground shopping malls in the world: the PATH system. It’s got 28km of shops, stores and restaurants (with plans to make it up to 60km some day!) and over 371,600 square metres (4 million square feet) of retail. You can find a map of it here (as a .pdf) One of the major detractors of the PATH system is that it’s well, completely underground. It’s great for the winter months, as you can effectively move from the CBC building to Yonge-Dundas Square without stepping foot above ground. Unfortunately, a large part of that journey is a soul-sucking search to avoid seeing yet another newsstand or Aldo location, which in the winter months, is also a large consideration. The only natural light section I can think of is next to Roy Thomson Hall.
Imagine for a moment that the technology being developed in this LowLine Park project was able to help penetrate the dark hole that is the PATH system? I don’t say that to disparage the finishes on the PATH – the whole thing is quite beautiful when you consider the complexity of making the entire network fit together and work to provide dry service to people who sometimes have to endure 4-5 months of nasty weather (not this year!). But the advent of fibre-optic light transfer technology, as far-fetched as it may seem, could be a boon to us northern-climate dwelling folk who have to deal with seasonal affective disorder pretty much all the time. Imagine turning a corner in the PATH system and running into a full-blown public park with trees and flowers. In fact, the City of Toronto, while renovating and adding to Union Station in the coming years, is adding the first publicly-owned section of the PATH right now. Perhaps there’s a chance to try new technology here, and encourage cross-border development of innovative thought.
As urban centres continue to expand up, we’ll have to consider expanding down as well. We’re not the first to have thought of this need (check out the crazy underground cities in Cappadocia, or in Beijing!), and we won’t be the last. In the meantime, it would be great to see city-building thought put into the development of the rest of the PATH system, including the need for rest and recreation, something an underground park could conveniently provide.