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Could New York's Broadway Become a Linear Park?

he overwhelming success of the Highline has proved that in New York City, at least, old infrastructure can be made new, especially through the now-popular concept of the linear park. But what about letting foliage grow on the actual street grid? Perkins Eastman Architects decided to imagine a world where this was feasible. The 40-block park called the Green Line would run from Columbus Circle to Union Square — almost three miles. In the process, the ambitious renderings transform how we think about green transportation and infrastructure in a major thoroughfare.

With some New Yorkers already annoyed by the gradual loss of driving and parking room to pedestrian plazas and bike lanes, how might this proposal, in a very active space instead of a derelict one, be made feasible?

"There is not a lot of car traffic along this particular stretch of Broadway. It is not a bus route, but it is already an active pedestrian street and has subway lines running beneath it," said Jung Hyun Woo, a research fellow with the firm's Transportation and Public Infrastructure practice area.

"We see the Green Line as an obvious extension of a historic trajectory already underway. Most recently, the addition of bike lanes and pedestrian plazas seem to foreshadow a greater transformation, one in which space for human activities is prioritized as opposed to space for automobiles."

Emergency vehicles would also be able to use the Green Line as a shortcut, completing the team's vision of reclaiming space for pedestrians. The Green Line would also have some additional benefits outside this sphere, including enhancing Manhattan's drainage system by allowing water to be absorbed directly into the green surface instead of having to be channeled away from tarmac.

Principal Jonathan Cohn says the project emerged out of a "general focus on connecting public space in Manhattan." As such, the project is not meant to be immediately feasible; it is more of a challenge for future architects to respond to and improve upon.

"The project addresses the very real issue of the evolution of urban infrastructure, while addressing the city's public space challenges," he said. "It is informed by current requirements, but suggests how these may change in the future - if we can envision an ecological asset as a great public space."

Whether such spaces get perceived first as public spaces, or as necessary interventions for our future, remains up to urban planners — and a public that needs to both push more progressive ideas and adapt to future challenges.

Perkins Eastman Architects

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