Temporary sidewalk sheds are legally required to be installed at any construction site to protect pedestrians from falling debris. While they are seen as a safety necessity, the structures are eyesores that block sunlight and slow foot traffic. In New York City, the total number of sidewalk sheds has tripled over the past two decades, a new report released this week by the Independent Budget Office found. Looking at data from the Department of Buildings, the report found Manhattan was home to the most sidewalk sheds but noted the outer boroughs are starting to catch up.
As of this week, New York City is home to 7,342 sidewalk sheds, totaling nearly 270 miles of sprawling eye-sores. Although this may sound like a lot, the number of sidewalk sheds has actually decreased from last year, when the Department of Buildings found over 7,700 sidewalk sheds throughout the city. The DOB on Wednesday released a new map highlighting the exact location of permitted sidewalk sheds. The map, which will update automatically in real-time, has a new feature that allows users to search sidewalk sheds by age, borough, community board and permit applicant.
Sidewalk sheds, or scaffolding, are so pervasive in New York City they almost become part of a neighborhood’s landscape. While used to protect people from falling debris, scaffolding continues to be an omnipresent eyesore that blocks sunlight and views, attracts crime and slows foot traffic. Now, thanks to a new map by the city’s Department of Buildings, residents can explore more than 7,700 sidewalk sheds, each labeled with a color-coded dot highlighting the reason for its construction, its age, and its size. As the New York Times covered, there are currently 280 miles of sidewalk scaffolding in front of 7,752 buildings in the city (way up from the 190 miles we covered just a little over a year ago), which is enough to encircle Manhattan nearly nine times.
Like an unwanted visitor, well-intentioned but present well after becoming a daily nuisance, New York City’s familiar green sidewalk scaffolding seems to contradict the laws of gravity: It goes up but never really seems to come down. Now, the New York Times reports, a new City Council bill would require that scaffolding be taken down after six months–sooner if no work is being done.
It definitely seems that every day, more of New York City is covered by the ubiquitous wood and steel building shed scaffolding, making daily life an urban obstacle course of weaving and tunnel trekking. It’s not just your imagination: Currently there are almost 9,000 sheds camped out over city streets, reports Crains, based on numbers from the Department of Buildings, up from around 3,500 in 2003. That adds up to 190 miles–one million linear feet—worth of sheds, enough to encircle Manhattan six times.
The city’s maze of construction sheds are the result of a 1980s law and a billion dollar industry that keeps growing. “New York is insatiable right now when it comes to sheds,” says George Mihalko, a shed-equipment supplier. “I’ve never seen anything like it in 30 years.” This demand is driven in part by the new wave of construction spurred by the city’s building boom. But there is apparently another, more important reason.
Scaffolding in New York City is as much a part of the city’s skyline as the Empire State Building itself—and has been around for much longer. On the surface, scaffolding seems to be a necessary ugly; a kind of urban cocoon from which a beautiful new butterfly building emerges.
But if you are one of those people who cringes every time you see a building wrapped in scaffolding, you better get used to it because it’s only going to get worse. All while the scaffolding companies laugh all the way to the bank.