During the mid-20th century a large transportation system was built in New York, including bridges, elevated highways and rail lines all across the city.

As a consequence, neighbourhoods were cleaved apart and separated by these huge structures, and the spaces under overpasses became neglected and useless.

At the same time, recent community studies hinted a growing demand for public and open spaces in the city, leading to a promotion of the potential for designing and programming spaces under elevated infrastructure.

The Design Trust for Public Spaces, a non-profit company dedicated to promoting public spaces, is working with the New York City Department of Transport, to transform “lost” spaces under elevated transit infrastructure.

Overpass Astoria

Overpass in Astoria, a middle class and commercial neighbourhood in the north-western
corner of the New York City borough of Queens.

The group’s project, dubbed Under the Elevated: Reclaiming Space, Connecting Communities, seeks to engage community members, urban planners, architects, artists and cultural organisations to develop a plan to maximize the function, use and spatial quality of the 100 million square feet of space that is wasted under New York’s bridges, elevated highways, subways and rail lines.

“Much of the space below NYC’s elevated transit infrastructure is composed of either parking storage, or vacant space. We see an opportunity to increase the functionality of these spaces and identify permanent or temporary uses that will enliven the public realm of neighbouring communities,” said Wendy Feuer, assistant commissioner for Urban Design & Art at New York City’s Department of Transportation.

“By working with the Design Trust to develop guidelines for the design and use of these spaces, we can look forward to well-thought-out recommendations that will be respected by design professionals and community organizations alike.”

Melbourne Bridge Park

Melbourne’s Bridge Park, situated under the railway bridge, includes a basketball court, hang out rocks and mounded asphalt for skateboarders.

The High Line Park showcases how derelict infrastructure – in this case, an abandoned elevated railway structure on Manhattan’s West Side – can be turned into a splendid public space.

“When you look at the impact the mile-and-a-half-long High Line has created, and then consider the potential of these spaces in neighbourhoods across the five boroughs, you understand the magnitude of this undertaking,” said Design Trust executive director Susan Chin.

The Design Trust has chosen five expert contributors for the project. These contributors will work both independently and collaboratively toward cleaning up and transforming the selected spaces. The team includes Susannah Drake, architect and urban designer, artist and architectural designer Chat Travieso, photographer Krisanne Johnson, graphic designer Neil Donnelly, and planner and urban designer Douglas Woodward.

Hillside Art Gallery

The Hillside Art Gallery by Standard architects in Santa Monica, California is built under an artificial landscape that is supported by a massive concrete structure reminiscent of a freeway overpass.

The plan’s objective is not only to produce design guidelines and policy recommendations capable of transforming and improving these spaces city-wide, but also to encourage other cities all around the world to implement similar strategies.