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Mapping the 280 Miles of Scaffolding in New York City

Mapping the 280 Miles of Scaffolding in New York City

Back in 1980, New York City introduced a law that required scaffolding after Grace Gold, a student at Barnard College, was struck and killed by a piece of terra cotta that fell from an early 1900’s apartment in Manhattan. 37 years later, and according to the Buildings Department, 7,752 buildings have scaffolding out in front, covering approximately 280 miles of New York sidewalks.

“It becomes part of the city landscape; you dodge it every day,” said Kwanele Mpanza, 34, a real estate agent who lives around the corner from the oldest scaffolding of its type in New York in an interview with the New York Times. “As a user of the city, it makes it more difficult to get where you need to go. It’s an additional obstacle.”

Scaffolding can take years to come down after it’s erected, if it comes down at all. Residents are understandably frustrated with these often unwelcome additions to their neighborhoods that bring issues with dripping water, unwanted rats and other vermin as well as muggers, drug dealers and other criminals according to people living around these supposedly temporary structures.

“We already know how big a problem it is, and unless the city is willing to take steps to get the scaffolding down, it doesn’t matter,” City Councilman Ben Kallos, who represents the Upper East Side said to the New York Times.

The amount of work it will take to rid the city of unnecessary scaffolding will likely be a long and arduous process, but the Buildings Department recently developed and released a map that marks over 7,700 sidewalk sheds throughout the city. This map marks each building with scaffolding erected out front with a color-coded dot indicating the reason the structure was erected in the first place.

  • Green for maintenance work
  • Dark blue for new construction
  • Light blue for repairs
  • Red for unsafe buildings

The larger the dot, the older the scaffolding is, and clicking on an individual dot gives more information about that individual structure including the initial approval date for the permit.

“It synthesizes the enormous amount of information we have,” New York City Buildings Department Commissioner Rick D. Chandler said to the New York Times. “We sit on an ocean of data.”

Chandler said that the online database will help the department identify illegal structures that lack permits and help direct enforcement measures. By the end of 2017, he expects that the online system for accepting permits will be in place and that the database will be updated as new structures are added or old ones are taken down. However, he acknowledged that while these efforts will help, they do not necessarily mean that scaffolding will come down any sooner since they are erring on the side of caution in order to prevent any unnecessary injuries.

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