New York City has nearly 700 miles of elevated infrastructure–bridges, highways, subway tracks and rail lines–towering above its streets and weaving throughout its five boroughs. Together with the NYC Department of Transportation (DOT) we are developing a plan to reclaim and transform the public space under New York City's elevated transit infrastructure. 


In the early and mid-20th century a massive transportation system was built in New York City, including miles of bridges, elevated highways and rail lines, creating a multi-layered city. These structures cleaved neighborhoods in all five boroughs. In most cases, the space underneath became neglected and dispirited.

Recent community-driven studies, guerilla art projects, and public demand for more plazas and open spaces have demonstrated the need for a comprehensive citywide survey and a set of guidelines to make the process for designing and programming spaces under elevated infrastructure more accessible.

Under the Elevated builds on the success of our 2001 project, Reclaiming the High Line. This planning and feasibility study was credited with rescuing the structure from demolition, paving the way for its transformation from an abandoned derelict railway into the vibrant public space it is today.


Under the Elevated will engage community leaders, planners, architects, artists and cultural organizations to develop strategies to maximize the function, use and spatial qualities of the millions of square feet of space underneath New York's bridges, elevated highways, subways and rail lines–from dark, litter-strewn expanses of parking under the BQE to arched gateways beneath the 1 train in Harlem.

To date, the interdisciplinary team of Fellows – an urban planner, landscape architect, artist, graphic designer and photographer – has:

  • Surveyed the inventory of land under NYC’s bridges, and elevated subway, highway, and rail lines to study the diverse development potential each holds
  • Identified physical conditions to categorize parcels into typologies 
  • Selected seven sites that were representative of the seven types for in-depth study
  • Conducted participatory workshops at three of the sites to solicit input and feedback from community members
  • Led a design workshop with students at the George Washington High School
  • Developed a unifying graphic identity and visual language for the project
  • Designed temporary installations for sites in Chinatown, Crotona Park East and Washington Heights
  • Photographed life under and around elevated infrastructure at sites in Chinatown, Crotona Park East and Washington Heights
  • Presented their draft research and policy recommendations to the project Advisory Committee 
  • Held stakeholder working sessions with various groups inside the NYC Dept. of Transportation and other city agencies with a vested interest in the project sites 
  • Developed short- and long-term design and programming recommendations for each of the seven sites

The final deliverable for the project, expected late 2014, will be a set of design recommendations as well as programming and policy proposals that will inform the transformation of spaces citywide and around the world and propose strategies that will enable the city to work with local partners to reclaim these areas as new public spaces. 

Key Milestones

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Conduct preliminary research

September 2012

Design Trust works with a graduate studio at Cornell University to research and analyze elevated transit infrastructure in NYC. 

Map: Cornell University Planning Studio 

Define scope

May 2013

Design Trust partners with the NYC Department of Transportation and defines the scope of the project. 

Assemble team

June 2013

We assemble an interdisciplinary team of Fellows, including a graphic designer, landscape architect, urban planner, artist, and photographer. 

Graphic: Neil Donnelly 

Form Advisory Committee

June 2013

We form an Advisory Committee of engineers, architects, transportation experts, and community stakeholders to guide the project. 

Conduct research

July 2013

The Fellows research the different types of elevated infrastructure in NYC, the spaces underneath, and the communities surrounding them. 

Gather community input

August 2013

The team conducts a series of on-site workshops in Chinatown, Crotona Park East and Washington Heights to gather ideas and feedback from the community. 


January 2014

Working with our community collaborator, Chinatown Partnership, the Fellows designed an interactive community calendar and bulletin board for the space below the Manhattan Bridge in Chinatown. Developed out of several listening sessions with local residents, the team designed this prototype to test ways that this underused space could become a central hub for Chinatown events, news, and opportunities. Read more...


July 2014

Working with our community collaborator, Women's Housing and Economic Development Corporation, Design Trust Fellows Chat Travieso and Neil Donnelly created "The Boogie Down Booth," a temporary resting spot underneath the 2, 5 subway tracks that provides solar-powered lighting at night and plays Bronx-born music from directional speakers. Read more about The Boogie Down Booth...


October 2014

The project team and Design Trust staff work to synthesize the project's research, findings and feedback from the site-specific installations in order to create the final project publication.