Under the Elevated 2013–2020

The first phase developed design and policy recommendations, in partnership with the NYC Department of Transportation, to transform the neglected public space under the city's elevated bridges, highways, subway and rail lines, into valuable community assets. The partnership continues in a second phase to launch several pilots. The first pilot in Sunset Park will be a collaboration with Industry City.

  1. Phase I
  2. Phase II
Under the Elevated Project Umbrella Image
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© Krisanne Johnson for the Design Trust for Public Space

New York City has nearly 700 miles of elevated infrastructure towering above its streets and weaving throughout its five boroughs. Together with the NYC Department of Transportation (DOT) we have developed a plan to reclaim and transform the public space under New York City's elevated transit infrastructure. 


A massive transportation system was built in New York City in the early and mid-20th century, creating a multi-layered city with elevated highways, subway tracks and rail lines. While this major investment contributed positively to the physical and economic growth of New York City, it also divided and isolated communities. Often, the spaces beneath this elevated infrastructure became neglected and dispirited. 

In a dense city like New York, these residual spaces can no longer be an afterthought. The millions of square feet of these sites (nearly four times the size of Central Park) arguably encompass one of the most blighting influences on the city’s neighborhoods, yet also constitute one of the last development frontiers. This substantial inventory represents an untapped public asset that has the potential to radically transform New York’s urban fabric. 


Working in partnership with the agency responsible for managing and maintaining New York City’s streets and the majority of space under elevated transportation infrastructure and our interdisciplinary team of Fellows, we: 

  • Surveyed the inventory of land under NYC’s bridges, and elevated subway, highway, and rail lines to study the diverse development potential each holds;
  • Identified physical conditions to categorize parcels into seven distinct types, and then studied each in-depth;
  • Conducted participatory workshops at different sites throughout the city to solicit input and feedback from community members;
  • Designed and produced temporary site-specific installations in Chinatown and in the Bronx;
  • Explored ways that DOT could influence the development of sites citywide; and
  • Developed realistic, context-specific design and programming recommendations.

In June of 2015 we released our study, Under the Elevated: Reclaiming Space, Connecting Communities. Synthesizing more than two years of research, design and policy work, this publication includes design recommendations as well as programming and policy proposals to inform the transformation of spaces citywide and around the world. Check out the publication.

Under the Elevated puts New York City at the forefront of the growing national and international trend of addressing and reclaiming aging elevated transportation infrastructure and the spaces associated with it. It is the first major urban initiative to propose a comprehensive approach in dealing with these spaces citywide.

NYC DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, Preface, "Under the Elevated: Reclaiming Space, Connecting Communities"

Key Milestones

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Conduct preliminary research

September 2012

Design Trust works with a graduate studio at Cornell University to research and analyze elevated transit infrastructure in NYC. 

Map: Cornell University Planning Studio 

Define scope

May 2013

Design Trust partners with the NYC Department of Transportation and defines the scope of the project. 

Assemble team

June 2013

We assemble an interdisciplinary team of Fellows, including a graphic designer, landscape architect, urban planner, artist, and photographer. 

Graphic: Neil Donnelly 

Form Advisory Committee

June 2013

We form an Advisory Committee of engineers, architects, transportation experts, and community stakeholders to guide the project. 

Conduct research

July 2013

The Fellows research the different types of elevated infrastructure in NYC, the spaces underneath, and the communities surrounding them. 

Gather community input

August 2013

The team conducts a series of on-site workshops in Chinatown, Crotona Park East and Washington Heights to gather ideas and feedback from the community. 


January 2014

Working with our community collaborator, Chinatown Partnership, the Fellows designed an interactive community calendar and bulletin board for the space below the Manhattan Bridge in Chinatown. Developed out of several listening sessions with local residents, the team designed this prototype to test ways that this underused space could become a central hub for Chinatown events, news, and opportunities. Read more...


July 2014

Working with our community collaborator, Women's Housing and Economic Development Corporation, Design Trust Fellows Chat Travieso and Neil Donnelly created "The Boogie Down Booth," a temporary resting spot underneath the 2, 5 subway tracks that provides solar-powered lighting at night and plays Bronx-born music from directional speakers. Read more about The Boogie Down Booth...

Synthesize research

October 2014

The project team and Design Trust staff work to synthesize the project's research, findings and feedback from the site-specific installations in order to create the final project publication. 

Release findings

June 2015

The project publication, Under the Elevated: Reclaiming Space, Connecting Communities, will be released on Thursday, June 18th!  Read more about the launch event.

Recent Output

Recent Activity

The Latest News

NYC DOT and Design Trust Presented Discover El-Space 2.0 at Long Island City

June 24, 2019

Public Presentations

Under the Elevated Book Launch

Thursday, June 18, 2015 @ 1:30 PM

The Latest Press