Vacant Underpasses Get Transformed Into Lively Public Space

The space under elevated highways are often dark, industrial and empty. With so much capacity to create a vibrant public space, organizations and cities are exploring ways for creative development in the otherwise unused area.

This form of underpass design can be used as a method to connect cities through the creation of public parks, art installations and special events. These successful revamps demonstrate that you shouldn’t overlook the underpass potential.

The Bentway hosts a beer garden under a busy underpass in Toronto

The Bentway is a dynamic public space that opened up earlier this year, occupying 1.75km underneath a busy highway in Toronto, Canada. Now in it’s first phase of development, the project will knit together seven neighbourhoods. It runs activities and events year-round, including a community garden, a skate trail, recreational amenities, markets, public art, special exhibitions, festivals, theatre and musical performances and more.

Fun fact: Burnside Skatepark was even featured in the Tony Hawk Pro Skater video game!

For years, the cement area underneath highways have been a popular meeting point for skateboarders  to practice their skills. Oftentimes, illegal ramps and rails are installed to create the ultimate hidden skatepark. Seeing the positive impact the unauthorized skateparks have done for the community, there are multiple instances where local businesses have lobbied to establish these areas as legal skate parks. Some examples of underpasses turned skate parks include Burnside Skatepark and The Lynch Family Skatepark in Boston and Parisite Skateboard Park in New Orleans.

Students congregate at their self-built event space

A temporary, yet creative solution to make use of underpass space is this wooden events pavillion built by Swiss architecture students taking part in Atelier de la Conception de l’Espace in Zurich. The 240-square-metre structure consists of seating, storage compartments, staircases, a bar and projection boards. When running events in the space, a built-in sound emitter helps minimize sound from the trains passing above.

In these featured examples, we see how cities, communities and schools have taken steps to utilize underpass space to bring people together. A similar concept for transforming public space is happening in London, where a multi-story parking garage was transformed into a community hub. What’s the most under utilized space in your city?