This coming Saturday, The Lowline Lab opens at 140 Essex St., formerly part of the Essex Street Market. It’s the next major step in the long-term quest to build a 60,000 sq. ft. green space in an old trolley terminal below Delancey Street. The lab is part scientific experiment — part public engagement vehicle.
The lab was made possible through a Kickstarter campaign this past summer that raised more than $220,000. A mini-version of the park has been created inside the market building. There are around 60 species of plants, including edibles such as strawberries, mint and pineapple. Mirrored collectors on the roof are piping in sunlight. During the next several months, Lowline co-founder James Ramsey and his team will be examining how well the plants grow and what tweaks need to be made in the sunlight channeling technology.
We stopped by the lab the other day to speak with Lowline Executive Director Dan Barasch. They created a smaller-scale version of the project in 2012. It, however, only lasted for two weeks, while this iteration will be up-and-running until at least March of next year. “We’ve built a live technology demonstration,” Barasch explained, “to show how the solar technology actually can function and how we plan to bring sunlight into the trolley terminal underground.” It’s a good opportunity to show people how the sunlight looks and feels, but also, he said, to demonstrate the “magic of the plants we can grow in the space.” The lab is also meant to foster a dialogue about The Lowline’s role in the local community. “We’re eager to get all kinds of feedback, positive and critical, that helps inform how we build this thing,” said Barasch.
Since 2009, the team has been trying to coax the MTA, which controls the former trolley space, to give them access. The lab is part of their campaign to finally turn a dream into reality. “I hope this demonstrates to everyone that the technology is fully sound,” Barasch added. “Our core political goal right now is to engage with the mayor’s office and the MTA to develop a really clear pathway for transitioning the site from MTA jurisdiction to a public amenity. I’m hoping this will be one of the most important steps in engaging with the right city and state stakeholders to enable that process to move forward.”
The Lowline Lab opens at 140 Essex St. (between Rivington and Stanton streets) Saturday at noon. It will be open weekends from noon-6 p.m. for the next six months. Admission is free.