The before and after the Sunset Park El-Space Pilot. Photos: NYCDOT and Industry City

Our project to turn derelict spaces under elevated transportation infrastructure into more accessible, sustainable and healthier community assets is featured in the exhibition, Design and the Just City in NYC, at the Center for Architecture, on view through March 30, 2019.

Don’t miss the upcoming panel discussion about this exhibition on March 4, 2019, from 6:00 to 8:00 PM, at the Center for Architecture, moderated by Toni L. Griffin, Just City Lab Director and Professor in Practice on Urban Planning at Harvard Graduate School of Design.


  • Julia D. Day, Associate, Gehl – Making Cities for People
  • Susannah C. Drake, FASLA, AIA, Founding Principal, DLANDstudio, and Design Trust Fellow for Under the Elevated
  • Quilian Riano, Assoc. AIA, Founder and Principal, DSGN AGNC, and Design Trust Fellow for El-Space
  • Claire Weisz, FAIA, Founding Principal, WXY architecture + urban design

The exhibition, curated by the Just City Lab at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, asks the viewers to “imagine that the issues of race, income, education, and unemployment inequality, and the resulting segregation, isolation, and fear, could be addressed by planning and urban design.”

Under the Elevated/El-Space, a project of Design Trust for Public Space in partnership with NYC Department of Transportation (DOT), is exhibited alongside four other initiatives that address social justice through design, including the East Harlem Center for Living and Learning, D15 Diversity Plan, Justice in Design, and Public Life & Urban Justice in NYC's Plazas

Design and the Just City in NYC examines how these five projects counter conditions of injustice in the city. Under the Elevated tackles a series of environmental, public health and socio-economic challenges caused by elevated highways, bridges, subway tracks and rail lines. Issues abound especially in lower-income neighborhoods where most of these structures exist. 

The Under the Elevated case study in the exhibition identifies specific injustices that our project targets:

Exclusion vs. Engagement
Historically, hulking structures were constructed as expeditiously as possible without input from local communities. Design Trust’s installation under the Manhattan Bridge at Division Street in Chinatown created new spaces with multiple engagement opportunities. Weekly event postings on communal maps were filled with tags color-coded by day, for a range of activities, from “learn” to “eat.”

Separation vs. Connectivity
A massive transportation system was built in New York City in the early and mid-20th century, creating a multi-layered urban environment with elevated highways, subway tracks and rail lines. While this major investment contributed positively to the physical and economic growth of New York City, it also divided and isolated communities. Often, the spaces beneath this elevated infrastructure became neglected and dispirited. Design Trust’s Boogie Down Booth installation under the 2/5 subway line at Southern Boulevard in the Bronx facilitated social interaction among people who might not otherwise connect.

Pollution vs. Sustainability
Highways bring air and water pollution to adjacent neighborhoods. At Design Trust’s installation under the Gowanus Expressway at 36th Street and 3rd Avenue in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, lowlight plantings clean the air and capture and filter storm water runoff of pollutants, oil and heavy metal.

Unsightly vs. Pleasing
Vacant and underused spaces invite waste and deter engagement. The Gowanus Expressway columns’ buttercup yellow paint enhances daylight and reflect nighttime illumination. 

Unsafe vs. Safe
Dark and loud spaces under the elevated often feel unsafe. The Sunset Park space’s lighting strategy improves pedestrian comfort and safety. New lighting is aimed at testing lighting the fascia and structural surfaces as well as highlighting the volume of space under the elevated structure. Lighting plays a similar role in Chinatown – drawing people to the installation and illuminating the pedestrian pathway.

Read more about Design and the Just City in NYC in Metropolis Magazine.


under the elevated/el-space

Under the Elevated/El-Space, a two-phase project of Design Trust for Public Space, in partnership with NYCDOT, is the first major research, design, and planning initiative to document and analyze the vast network of space beneath New York City’s elevated transportation structure, and to make recommendations for their improvement as a public asset.

We created a model, from pop-up to pilot to permanent, for progressive scaling up of the program, and produced temporary pop-up installations in Chinatown in collaboration with Chinatown BID, and in the Bronx in collaboration with WHEDco. These low-cost, temporary experiments sought feasible solutions for building social capital and organizational capacity. Design Trust and NYCDOT are now piloting the project recommendations and developing a toolkit to advance more sustainable, healthier, and safer ‘el-spaces’ in New York City and urban areas across North America.

In addition to the Sunset Park pilot launched in June 2018 in collaboration with Industry City, Design Trust and NYCDOT are partnering to implement two additional sites – Rockaway Freeway and Dutch Kills Street – in collaboration with the Rockaway Waterfront Alliance and Rockrose respectively. For the Rockaway Freeway El- Space, a green infrastructure installation featuring a steel planter representing a dunescape, is located at the A train Beach 60th Street station in the Rockaways, Queens, at the corner of Rockaway Boulevard and 60th Street. The planter captures and filters storm water from the elevated A train tracks. Another green infrastructure pilot will be installed at Dutch Kills Street in Long Island City, Queens. The pilot will also feature a modular illuminated El-Fence.