AIA New York | Center for Architecture
Imagine walking beneath an elevated highway and seeing a planter box collecting storm water from the pipes above, or being able to picnic with your reclining chair, watching roller skating performance, or seeing murals and lights breathing new life into the blank, scary areas of the underpass. The El-Space Toolkit will surely let your imagination run wild, while offering practical strategies to get there.
Watch project process video
New York City has over 75 million square feet of el-space, forming a complex network in the urban fabric of the city that is often hard to ignore. Despite being a space for informal community use to essential storage facilities for municipalities, they are mostly forgotten and underutilized, and generally considered unsafe areas to be in. With jurisdictional, operational and funding issues,
these complex sites pose challenges, many of them site-specific. Featuring 21 topical case studies from 11 cities across North America, the Toolkit, is meant to serve as an evolving multi-media resource for designers, community groups, local businesses, developers, and public agencies to use in the planning, design, and operation of el-space.
At the launch event, the panelists representing featured toolkit case studies, discussed the immense potential that these residual urban areas pose for designers, city planners and communities alike. The panel, moderated by Margaret Newman, Principal at ARUP, included,
- Dan Adams, Founding Principal, Landing Studio
- Adam Nicklin, Principal and Co-Founder, Public Work
- Linnaea Tillett, Founding Principal, Tillett Lighting Design Associates
- Neil Gagliardi, Director of Urban Design, NYC Department of Transportation
- Skye Duncan, Director, Global Designing Cities Initiative at the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO)
NYC Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, and Design Trust Director of Programs, Samira Behrooz, introduced the Toolkit's contents and evolution.
OVERVIEW OF EL-SPACE INITIATIVE
Since 2013, Design Trust and NYC DOT, have partnered on the Under the Elevated/El-Space initiative, a multi-phase project to reclaim and regenerate spaces beneath and adjacent to elevated transportation, along with other public agencies, community organizations, and practitioners in New York City. Although many other cities, have engaged in the reimagining of these interstitial spaces, there hasn't been a comprehensive guide or manual documenting the many challenges, considerations and opportunities of el-space--until now.
In May 2018, the Design Trust and NYC DOT convened the El-Space Forum, represented by city and community leaders, designers and planners from ten cities across North America, including Mexico City and Toronto, to advance the initiative and emerging trends of 'el-space' planning and design. This laid the groundwork for the El-Space Toolkit, as an evolving resource, across the globe. In New York City, with the help of our multidisciplinary Fellows and community collaborators, we created and tested strategies for green infrastructure, lighting, and urban design to improve el-space conditions through pilot projects. These pilot installations were set up in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, Long Island City, and Far Rockaway in Queens.
To understand el-space, one needs to understand who manages, uses and lives around it, and what characterizes its features, such as lighting, location and pedestrian traffic, among other things. The case studies documented in the Toolkit, vary in scale and complexity, providing a range of site specific suggestions and best practices instead of a one-size-fits-all approach.
- The Toolkit is laid out in four sections: Documenting, Planning, Designing and Operating El-Space, with “considerations” for application that underscore key lessons learned from case studies, along with critical insights and reflections from participants. It demonstrates approaches to various typologies of el-space from linear pathways to crossings to commercial corridors or market spaces, highlighting the range of potential of el-space from enhanced infrastructure to destination parks to trails, as well as value generation, equitable development and programming for residents and visitors.
- The case studies focus on holistic planning and values linked to el-space such as equity, inclusivity, shared ownership, accessibility, accountability, healing, connectivity, and adaptability. The Toolkit also expands on innovative funding and partnerships models such as through value capture and leveraging local tax laws and policies to generate revenue for el-spaces.
- El-spaces can reconnect neighborhoods divided by bridges, highways, subways and rail lines to serve multi-functional objectives, as gateways, connectors, corridors or open spaces in neighborhoods. It also sets a precedent for the design of future elevated highways and ways to effectively manage and integrate these residual el-spaces. The possibilities are truly endless.
Bajo Puentes in Mexico City (p.41), The 606 in Chicago (p.42), Atlanta Beltline, Atlanta GA (p.18), The Bentway, Toronto (p.34), Infra-Space I: Underground at Ink Block, Boston (p.17), Splashpad Park, Oakland, CA (p.33), Clairborne Corridor in New Orleans (p.16), 11th Street Bridge, Washington D.C. (p.19), Sixth Street Viaduct & PARC in Los Angeles, and The Underline in Miami (p.35).