Seven Ways to Revamp Deserted Spaces Under New York City’s Highways and Elevated Trains

The Design Trust for Public Space reimagines neglected areas under the city’s infrastructure

(Rendering: Susannah C. Drake. Courtesy of the Design Trust for Public Space)

Under the train trestles and highway bridges of New York City, there are 700 miles of underused public land. It seems like a waste, in a city where square footage is a hot commodity. So, in partnership with the city's Department of Transportation, the Design Trust for Public Space released a report this June reimagining these spaces.

The groups came up with seven specific locations on public land—the Gowanus Expressway, Division Street in Chinatown, Southern Boulevard in the Bronx, Broadway Junction in Brooklyn, the Queensboro Bridge, Highbridge Park and Kew Gardens. Each of the sites had a different kind of public infrastructure that they wanted to upgrade: landing (where a bridge reconnects with the streets on the other side), park, trestle, highway, clover (the looping on-ramps of highways), clusters of train tracks and span bridges. The plans address future needs, neighborhood revitalization, sustainability and mobility.

Some of the projects, like the redesign of Broadway Junction in Brooklyn, are already underway, while others are still in the planning phase. “The goal was to create new systems that can be replicated across the country,” says architect and Design Trust urban design fellow Susannah Drake.

Kew Gardens Interchange, Queens

The cloverleaf of highways at the Kew Gardens interchange in Queens, built in the 1930s, contains green spaces, but they are isolated from each other. The Design Trust took this as a challenge to create wildlife byways in urban areas. “We were looking at making bat habitats and enhancing songbird habitat, because it’s kind of on the flyway for the Northeast corridor,” Drake says. They put in appealing vegetation, like milkweed for butterflies, and extended swaths of plants along the roadways to give wildlife a passageway around the roads.

About Heather Hansman
Heather Hansman

Heather Hansman is a Seattle-based freelancer who writes about science, the environment, tech and people, and how they all interact. Her work has appeared in Outside, Popular Science and Grist.

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