Anyone who's walked the length of our cavernous concrete underground has mused on the endless possibilities laden in that dark, soggy world under Philly's arterials (or at least thought: "Anything. Anything is better than this.") A new project from design firm Gensler for converting London's abandoned tube tunnels into living streets - and bike paths - below the city might sound ludicrous, but it did just win Best Conceptual Project at the London Planning awards, and seems to land in that sweet intersection of innovation and imagination that is so important in the city planning process.
The Guardian explains, "The project would use dual tunnels in the Underground's defunct stretches to create parallel pedestrian paths and cycle ways, also lined with cafes and click-and-collect points for online shopping. To help make the tunnels more financially viable, each path could be surfaced with kinetic paving, which uses footfall and the friction created by bike tyres to generate electricity."
On the firm's website, Gensler writes: "With current pressures on London to cope with future transport capacity for pedestrians, cyclists and tube users, London is in desperate need for new types of public and community space, as well as affordable retail, commerce and entertainment spaces. Subterranean spaces present an excellent option for new uses."
With plans for giant swaths of Philadelphia's underground to be converted to better (and hopefully less pungent) use in the next few decades - from the new East Market to the Reading Viaduct, to development under Market Street and elsewhere - perhaps it's useful to look - just look - at proposals such as Gensler's and think of it less as tangential and more as an overshot that might just - in whole or in part - wind up hitting the mark.