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These 5 Futuristic Parks May Transform NYC's Landscape

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People have a lot of lofty ideas about how to improve the city's outdoor space and accessibility to nature, and a lot of them will ever only be that: lofty ideas. Maybe the city will never see floating composting islands topped in parkland or a resilient Brooklyn waterfront made out of dismantled navy ships, but an underground park that funnels in and magnifies surface light may, surprisingly, not be that far off. Here's a look at five of the completely wonky plans for city parks that are actually taking steps towards becoming a reality.

1) The LowLine: In a riff off of Chelsea's High Line, the LowLine is a proposed underground park in the Lower East Side. The park was pitched by satellite engineer-turned-architect James Ramsey, technology executive Dan Barasch and money guy R. Boykin Curry IV, who planned to convert a trolley station under Delancey Street that's sat unused since 1948 into a lush, subterranean Utopia.

The team planned to use their innovative "remote skylight" which would collect surface sunlight, channel it underground, and then redistribute it. In their wildly successful Kickstarter campaign (read: they raised the $75,000 they were looking for, and an angel donor met them there to double it) Ramsey says the remote skylights would actually cast enough light over the potentially creepy contained space to promote underground photosynthesis for the growing of trees and grasses. The team used the Kickstarter funds to build an operating model of the park in the empty Essex Street Market warehouse where they demonstrated the remote skylight's capabilities coupled with a tessellated canopy system used to reflect light.

What happened to the LowLine? Well, the momentum behind it has died down a bit. Where the project is at exactly is hard to say. Its specter, at the very least, still exists to promote the idea, but now that things are actually starting to happen on the above-ground part of the site at SPURA, the park of a lesser precedent may stay quiet for some time.

2) QueensWay: Another High Line copycat, the QueensWay would turn a 3.5 mile stretch of unused LIRR elevated track into—you guessed it—elevated park. The line in question has been unused for about 50 years and stretches from Rego Park to Ozone Park.

In late December 2012, Governor Cuomo gave the Trust for Public Land $467,000 to explore the actuality of the QueensWay, which lead to a Request For Proposal for a feasibility study. Just 11 months ago the Trust and the grassroots group Friends of the QueensWay (sound familiar?) announced they raised $1 million in funding for the project, and chose two firms through the RFP to conduct the feasibility study. Although the study is still underway, the plan hit a serious snag when Queens Community Board 5 voted 36-2 to return the elevated track to its original use: transportation. QueensWay supporters argue that rail activation isn't cost-effective for the dormant space.

The QueensWay is not stopped dead on the tracks just yet. Actually, an exhibition of designs for the park submitted from the world over opens tomorrow, July 17, at the Center For Architecture. While none of the designs will be used for the park if it moves forward, they at least give vision to the site's possibilities.

3) Sponge Park: Here to tackle the ever-compulsory issue of Gowanus Canal runoff is dlandstudio with Sponge Park, a waterfront esplanade and park that would filter rainwater, and more necessarily storm surge, through soil-filled concrete cells installed under the street before it runs into the canal. The park would extend on the East Bank of the canal from the Third Street Bridge north toward the Carroll Street Bridge and, at points, into the neighborhood it would use plants that naturally absorb or break down toxins, heavy metals, and contaminants from sewage overflow, along with plants that soak up excess water like a sponge, hence the park's name.

The park was first proposed about six years ago, and got a heady boost in August 2013, when the Daily News reported that the project garnered enough funds from city, state, and federal grants to build out a small portion where Second Street ends at the canal. The publication also reported that the $1.5 million undertaking would break ground in 2014 with an eye towards completion in 2015. Well, mid-way through the year there's no progress to speak of. (Or is there?) There is still time yet.

4) East River Blueway: There's no doubt Manhattan's west side has more sweet waterfront parks and perks than its east side (despite the east side's arguably more interesting views.) The East River Blueway wants to change that by connecting neighborhoods to the waterfront and integrating recreational facilities with the East River between the Brooklyn Bridge and East 38th Street.

WXY Architecture + Urban Design, who were chosen to design the waterfront swathe, has proposed several facets for the park including a public beach and kayak launch on a naturally occurring crescent of sand under the Brooklyn Bridge, boat launches on 20th and 23rd streets, a floating pier park off of Stuyvesant Cove, and surge-absorbing marshes along the FDR. With a mind towards storm preparedness—remember, the east side was pummeled by Sandy—WXY also suggested creating a new pedestrian bridge over the highway at 14th Street that would double as a sea wall (the sentiment's not far off from Bjarke Ingles' resilient post-Sandy design project Big U.)

The design's been in the works since a year before Sandy hit, but as of May 2013, there were no plans to actually move forward with construction despite the former Manhattan borough president's commitment of $3.5 million to study the proposed strategies, and $7 million for the construction of the crescent-shaped Brooklyn Bridge Beach. In September 2013, WXY Architecture received the rather prestigious Urban Design Award of Excellence and Best in New York State awards from the AIA New York State for their Blueway design. Other than that, not much news has come out of the Blueway of late. Hopefully new Manhattan borough president Gale Brewer will be as much of a champion of the project as was Scott Stringer.

5) +Pool: It's been about four years since the incredulous designers of the proposed 9,000-square foot floating pool off of Brooklyn Bridge Park sent their idea into the world. The plan for + Pool is this: four connected pools in its namesake shape will filter festering East River water through its walls like a "giant strainer" to produce lovely, swimable conditions.

Like the LowLine, + Pool also got its initial funding from a successful Kickstarter campaign. (Who doesn't want to swim in a giant floating pool in the East River? No one.) The group raised its initial goal of $25,000 in just four days, only to up the ante on the campaign to $50,000, to test the secondary filtration layers (described as "the meat in the filtration sandwich") and $100,000, to test all the filtration materials. Success ensued. Since, + Pool has been slogging away to raise the considerable funds it takes to, amongst other things, figure out how to filter poop particles out of East River H2O.

A major milestone for + Pool passed in April, when the team stationed Float Lab, the "mini, temporary and floating science-lab version of + Pool's filtration system," at its spot at Pier 40. The lab actively collects water-quality data to see if the filtration system the team devised is actually working. On that note, anyone interested can see if its working, too: + Pool partnered with Google Drive to bring water-quality data to, presumably, concerned and skeptical citizens.

Credit is given where credit is due: a few bright minds may soon have New Yorkers partaking in what is quite possibly the city's collective worst outdoors nightmare. And willingly, at that.
· All Outdoors Week 2014 coverage [Curbed]