Under the Elevated: Reclaiming Space, Connecting Communities (PDF)


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Underneath New York City’s 700 miles of elevated bridges, highways, subway and rail lines lies millions of square feet of public space – nearly four times the size of Central Park – with the potential to radically transform life in the city. Under the Elevated: Reclaiming Space, Connecting Communities presents an in-depth plan for how, and why, this massive inventory of residual space must be reimagined. 

Synthesizing more than two years of research, design, and policy work conducted by our multi-disciplinary team of Fellows in collaboration with our project partner and the Design Trust staff, the Under the Elevated publication envisions how to increase the vibrancy and resiliency of our neighborhoods by addressing and reclaiming the spaces associated with elevated transportation infrastructure. 

Specifically, the publication includes: 

  • An overview of the elevated infrastructure network in NYC with original maps and drawings illustrating typical site conditions;
  • An essay about the evolution of the "El" in NYC by urban historian Thomas J. Campanella;
  • Phased methodology of "Pop-Up > Pilot > Permanent" developed by the project team for transforming sites controlled by many City and State authorities; 
  • Detailed descriptions of the participatory design process and pop-up installations created by Participatory Design Fellow Chat Travieso and Graphic Design Fellow Neil Donnelly;
  • In-depth analysis of seven specific sites representative of the seven main types of "el-space" – cluster, clover, highway, landing, park, span, and trestle;
  • Dramatic black and white photography of life under and along the elevated in NYC by Photo Urbanism Fellow Krisanne Johnson;
  • 24 case studies highlighting national and international precedents for re-imagining these sites;
  • Original drawings developed by Urban Design Fellow Susannah Drake that detail new uses and innovative strategies for "el-spaces" including modular green infrastructure systems and affordable studio space for artists; and
  • A set of policy recommendations developed by Policy Fellow Douglas Woodward aimed at establishing a new program within NYC DOT—the El-Space Program—that would transform sites beneath elevated transportation infrastructure.


    Caroline Bauer, (former) Program Associate, Design Trust for Public Space
    Susannah C. Drake, Urban Design Fellow
    Rosamond Fletcher, Director of Programs, Design Trust for Public Space
    Chat Travieso, Participatory Design Fellow
    Douglas Woodward, Policy Fellow


    Caroline Bauer, (former) Program Associate, Design Trust for Public Space
    Rosamond Fletcher, Director of Programs, Design Trust for Public Space

    Editorial Contributor

    Thomas J. Campanella, Associate Professor, Cornell University


    Neil Donnelly, Graphic Design Fellow

    Creative Direction

    Megan Canning, Deputy Director, Design Trust for Public Space


    Date: March 2015
    Pages: 128
    Format: PDF