Last night, we were honored to be a partner in the launch of El-Space, a long-term pilot installation located under the Gowanus Expressway in Sunset Park at 36th Street and 3rd Avenue, just adjacent to Industry City. El Space is an initiative of The Design Trust for Public Space and timed for launch during NYCxDesign Week. It’s the product of a five year, critical exploration in how New York City can better activate the forgotten, unfriendly spaces beneath aging elevated infrastructure and culminates in this first pilot installation that showcases what an alternative walkway beneath the Gowanus Expressway could look like.

El-Space was designed with input from the diverse local community through charettes and on-site pop-up workshops, including work with students at Sunset Park High School and members of a Community Advisory Board. It was  constructed with support from the NYC Department of Transportation, Industry City, New York Community Trust and New York Building Foundation. It’s the first installation in a plan to create more El-Spaces throughout the five boroughs which will be used to test and refine strategies for future permanent activations that aim to increase environmental health and enhance pedestrian safety for residents and workers at busy intersections under elevated infrastructure. The design tests strategies for lighting, green infrastructure, and urban design for replicability, aesthetics, and of course, how the public uses and engages with it.

This art pice is actually a stormwater drainage pipe that will water the green plants

Two support structures were painted with color input by the community

Last night’s launch featured a site visit with NYC DOT Assistant Commissioner Wendy Feuer and Director of Urban Design Neil Gagliardi, Industry City CEO Andrew Kimball, alongside Design Trust’s El-Space Fellows landscape architect Tricia Martin, urban designer Quilian Riano, and lighting designer Leni Schwendinger (and many Untapped Cities Insiders who attended the event for free!). It was followed by a panel discussion moderated by Susan Chin, Executive Director, Design Trust for Public Space featuring eminent public space activists from around the country looking at elevated infrastructure.

The crowd at last evening’s event:

With El Space now in place, the team at The Design Trust for Public Space will be analyzing it for sustainability and pedestrian safety, checking the effectiveness of the low light plantings in cleaning the air and capturing storm water from the highway above, critiquing how the lighting fixtures provide better and artistic illumination for people at the intersection. The initial reactions from the neighborhood seem positive – a local worker, with his drill in tow, simply said, “beautiful” and told us he comes by El-Space every day to see it. “Sunset Park is changing a lot, and it’s good,” he explained. Community input can make all the difference in how these types of activations are used and received, and will ultimately, determine their success. It’s great to see the city working in tandem with non profits like The Design Trust for Public Space to bring innovative ideas right to the street, with the pedestrian, be it the local community, a commuter, or a visitor, in mind.

Come on down to Sunset Park this weekend for our tour of Swale, a floating food forest at the Brooklyn Army Terminal, with the artist and founder Mary Mattingly. Event is free for Untapped Cities Insiders! Check out more details here.