New York Times Sidewalks With Ceilings by Lawrence Downes

New York Times
New York Times
Sidewalks With Ceilings
Lawrence Downes
01/06/2017

What goes up must come down, unless it goes into orbit, or it’s a New York City sidewalk shed. Sidewalk sheds are those scaffolds of aluminum or steel, topped with plywood and often accessorized with duct tape, graffiti and pigeon droppings, that cling by the thousands to the sides of buildings, darkening countless blocks. On rainy days, it’s possible to walk a long way and not get wet, or see the sky, thanks to all the sidewalk sheds.

The city law that requires them had the best intention — to protect people from falling terra cotta and other dangers — but it lacks a mechanism to compel building owners to get on with facade repairs and take the scaffolds down. Landlords who are required to install them after a safety inspection, or use them for routine maintenance, often decide it’s easier and cheaper just to leave them up after the work is done, awaiting the next inspector’s visit or repair job. Some have been in place for years.

A bill introduced last month by City Council member Ben Kallos would try to end this ridiculous time warp. It would require building owners to finish repair work in six months, so that sheds can be removed. If work on a building ever stopped for seven or more consecutive days, landlords would have to take the sheds down or risk being fined.

This could mean a happier, brighter city for pedestrians and store owners, who lose business whenever sheds darken their doors. But the real estate industry and landlords are bristling over the bill, raising concerns about costs and safety. Yes, having a despised shed is better than having a skull fracture. But when no work is being done, sheds lose their reason for being. Safety is paramount, obviously, but landlords’ cheapness and contractor inertia should not be allowed to condemn New Yorkers to the eternal darkness of the pointless sidewalk shed.

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