New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

New York Times New York, a City Encased in Scaffolding by Editorial Board

New York, a City Encased in Scaffolding
Scaffolding at Lenox Avenue and 123rd Street in Manhattan, on Tuesday. CreditChang W. Lee/The New York Times

The city phenomenon of obtrusive sidewalk sheds that never seem to go away has finally gotten a head count from City Hall: There are a total of 280 miles of protective sidewalk scaffolding in front of 7,752 buildings, including sheds that are left in place for far too many years with no building renovations ever done.

New Yorkers are complaining that too many of the tunnel-like passages mar the city streets indefinitely, standing as durable and mysterious as the monoliths of Stonehenge. Initiated as a safety measure in 1980 after a pedestrian was killed by a piece of falling terra cotta, the sidewalk shed has become a loathed symbol of urban intransigence.

While responsible apartment managers adhere promptly to the spirit of the building safety law, recalcitrant owners leave the sheds up for years as a cheap way to avoid making building repairs. There are no deadlines set to force the work to be done or the sheds to come down.

The pole-and-metal roofed structures, designed to catch debris, attract it instead, along with idlers and loners, according to the complaints of nearby residents who are urging the city to take action. City Councilman Ben Kallos has proposed legislation to force a timetable of three to six months on building owners, but some insist that they don’t have the money to finish jobs. Thus sheds stay perpetually, as much a protection for scofflaw owners as pedestrians.

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City building officials have created a color-coded internet map to let the public track the sheds. They say most come down within two years, but it’s the long-running exceptions that blight neighborhoods. The champion malingerer was listed as a brownstone in Park Slope, Brooklyn, that’s been up since 2006 with nothing happening.

If nothing else, the new website may encourage a competition about shed longevity and attract even more ancient examples. Five years ago residents at Lenox Avenue and West 123rd Street in Manhattan complained that they had to endure neighborhood loafers sheltering themselves and doing chin-ups on the crossbars of scaffolding first erected in 2004, opposite a busy Harlem church.

“This wouldn’t happen at 72nd Street and Park Avenue,” a city-wise neighbor commented then. The shed was still in place on Tuesday.




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