As a new breed of super tall and super skinny towers rise in Midtown, Manhattan, local residents, politicians, and activists are increasingly worried that these gargantuan glass structures will cast long shadows over Central Park, providing billionaires with unprecedented views and plunging the streets below into darkness.
Image courtesy Evan Joseph
This week, Manhattan’s Community Board 5 called for a temporary and immediate moratorium on construction of all buildings 600 feet or higher built without public review. The board’s district includes the so-called Billionaires Row along 57th Street where many of these towers are concentrated. A moratorium would give the city council and the mayor time to review the impact these towers could have on light and air, as well as review the city’s zoning code, which was last overhauled in 1961. The board, which is an advisory body, hopes its resolution will spur elected officials to act.
“Quite frankly we want to send a message that the pause button should be hit,” said Layla Law-Gisiko, the chairperson of Community Board 5’s Central Park Sunshine Task Force. “We really need to look at the impact of these buildings in a comprehensive way.”
Seven of these mega-towers are under construction in the board’s district and five are in the planning stages. More could come. Under current zoning rules, the developers of such sites can assemble development rights from neighboring properties, allowing them to build super tall structures. They do not need to inform the public before filing construction permits, nor are they required to provide any public amenities, like transit improvements. Some of these buildings, like the Christian de Portzamparc-designed One57, have benefitted from generous tax breaks. “There is zero transparency right now,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.
A shadow study by the Municipal Arts Society, a civic organization, found that long shadows would fall across popular Central Park destinations including the carousel, the zoo, and even parts of the Great Lawn. In winter, temperatures in areas cast in shadow could drop by as much as 20 degrees Fahrenheit. “Shadows are a very visceral piece of this,” said Margaret Newman, the executive director of the Municipal Arts Society. “Most people understand that a mile-long shadow is a little alarming.”
Developers, however, dismiss the criticism as unwarranted hyperbole. “These buildings have no significant impact on the park,” said George Arzt, a spokesperson for Extell Development Company, in a statement. “The opponents of these developments also disregard the tremendous economic returns and job creation deriving from these projects, which fuel the growth, strength, vibrancy, and future of the city.”
Extell is developing One57 and a tower at 217 West 57th Street. The company is reportedly in negotiations to buy Calvary Baptist Church, also on West 57th Street, presumably to build another tower at that site.