The Secret Underground Acres of The LES: What’s Next For The Lowline Project

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A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I was being chased by some people with ill-intent and I ended up on what is today known as The High Line. It was dawn, and there was grass and flowers and I dodged the bird nests at my feet. Dogs were barking to their humans that I was there, in apartments lining the route. I had no idea that one day tourists and New Yorkers would enjoy the decaying old train tracks as a park. People who think outside of the box made a crazy dream come true. Tonight at The Box nightclub,189 Chrystie St. – where dreams come true by thinking “outside” the box – a benefit will bring another crazy idea closer to fruition.

An old friend, Steven Lau of Laudable Events, has invited me to the Lowline Benefit Concert. Performances by Mike Snow, Au Revoir Simone, Kurima, MGMT etc. will bring a superb crowd. The $200 ticket price will ensure greatness.

The Lowline is a concept that needs to become a reality. Underground in the L.E.S. are acres of beautiful vaulted abandoned train tracks and stations and such. For 60 years they have been home only to those that dwell in the dark (not talking about Bushwick hipsters). The geniuses pushing for this have figured out a way to gather sunlight elsewhere and, through fiber optics and ingenuity, collect that light and bring it underground. They’ll grow plants and grass and trees and a culture. This is why we live in New York. Someday this will exist, and tonight is your chance to contribute to that day.

Steven Lau answered a few questions and Lowline guru Daniel Barasch also weighed in.

What is your connection to the Lowline and how did you get involved?
Steven Lau:I had a group of friends to my house in Bucks County for the weekend a couple years ago and Dan Barasche, one of the founders of the Lowline was a guest of a mutual friend. In the kitchen over a few bottles of wine one night, he explained his and his partner James Ramsey’s vision of building an underground park in an acre-wide, abandoned trolley station on the Lower East Side. I was completely captivated by the idea as well as Dan’s passion for the project and wanted to be involved in any way I could. I was honored to be asked to join the team as a founding board member. Since the Lowline is hyper-focused on art, music, innovation, and culture, my role has been to help out on these fronts, which is where my strengths lie and what we are doing with Laudable Artists, our consulting company.

There will always be a dialogue and comparisons to The High Line. What are the differences? What is your role?
Lau: There are obvious comparisons to The High Line, and the name is even a nod, but the Lower East Side is a very different place then the Meatpacking District and Chelsea.

We’re not your average charity and, from a cultural standpoint, we are trying to do things that are, well, a little bit more…I’m not going to say the grossly over- abused P word… but in this case we are talking about the Lower East Side, the actual birthplace of CBGB’s, The Beastie Boys, Patti Smith, Lou Reed, Robert Mapplethorpe, The Ramones, Keith Harring, as well a myriad of other artistic icons. We’re trying to keep this real, doing cool things like hosting anti-galas in abandoned warehouses, mash-up musical events that feature artists from different bands, and throwing parties at The Box.

We do need to raise a significant amount of money, but this isn’t just about outreach to high-end donors. It’s about engaging everyone in the community that wants to be involved in whatever way possible.

Another difference from The High Line is that we don’t just want a passive park. We want a vibrant community arts space with a deep connection to local residents, along with compelling cultural draws for visitors from NYC and around the world. 

And of course we have a green tech solution, which offers a more resilient future cityscape.

Who will the Lowline serve and how?
Lau:The Lowline is being built to support multiple communities. The local neighborhood, the artists, musicians, and performers, young people, and people from outside the neighborhood as a destination, a community center/ art cultural attraction/ beautiful public space…

Tell me about Absolut’s role in this.
Lau:We’re working with Absolut Vodka to create an Absolut Lowline drink in bars throughout the Lower East Side. Their sponsorship of the Lowline reflects a long-term commitment to downtown creative culture.

Daniel Barasch weighed in:

“We’re trying to build a community-driven movement while celebrating Lower East Side history. The Lowline site could easily become a soulless parking lot, a bland storage facility, or a bargain basement for a TJ Maxx.  In the absence of activism, it probably was destined for such a fate.

But in New York, where we’ve always had to fight for public space, we also know it’s always worth the effort. The Lowline will truly makes its mark."

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