The eternal scaffolding in New York

Apartment house with scaffolding

Like this apartment building in Brooklyn, New York, more than 8,000 buildings in the city are surrounded by scaffolding.

(Foto: Bloomberg)

New York A hundred guests, a letter of greeting from Henry Kissinger and a speech from the former Alcoa-Chef Klaus Kleinfeld: Handelsblatt and Wirtschaftswoche opened their New York office in 2013 on Wall Street. Since then, four correspondents plus a group of freelancers have been housed in the middle of economic activity. It’s a pleasure to work there, with a huge lobby and the subway station right outside the door.

However, none of us had seen much of the 1931 building. Scaffolding about ten meters high blocked the view from outside. It had been part of everyday life for five years. A few days ago, however, we all rubbed our eyes. For the first time we saw the Art Deco building completely undisguised. In fact, the scaffolding had been dismantled. The entrance shone quite unusually in the sunlight.

A little miracle. Scaffolding is part of the New York streetscape like yellow taxis. However, they are less beautiful to look at. There are currently 8,119 of them in the city, according to the New York City Building Department. Lined up in a row, they range from Cologne to Hamburg. In 2003 it was less than half.

They are also standing longer and longer, for example the scaffolding on 123 Street and Lenox Avenue was set up in 2004. The children of the families living there don’t know anything other than dark and bulky on the sidewalk.

Scaffolding has been booming in New York since Grace Gold’s death. The 17-year-old graduated from high school in 1979 and wanted to get some money from the bank. A piece of brickwork fell on her head on 115 Street and Broadway. Her friends who accompanied her were shocked.

New York City then passed the so-called Local Law 10. This obliges every building owner of a house with more than six floors to have its facade checked every five years. Decrepit masonry must be replaced, and scaffolding must be erected for safety.

Since then, the lessors of scaffolding can hardly save themselves from orders. The list of building parts to be examined grew steadily over the years. The facades on the side and rear of a building have also had to be examined since 1998, and balcony railings since 2013.

The city’s caution is commendable. There is one problem, however. The law obliges the building owners to erect the scaffolding. But no regulation stipulates how long they can stay. For many, it is cheaper to have a scaffolding in place than to have the facade renovated. It costs around $ 13,000 to set up scaffolding that is almost 70 meters long.

In addition, there are around $ 700 monthly rent. Not little money. But the facade renovation of a 15-story high-rise building, for example, can easily run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Not every homeowner always has the money at hand.

The problem of the many and ugly scaffolding is slowly moving into the consciousness of New Yorkers. The local newspapers “Crain’s” and “New York Times” reported critically about the eternal stigma. Since last year the municipal building authority has been creating an interactive map of the “Sidewalk Sheds”. Everyone can check how many scaffolding there are and how long they have been in place. In the city parliament, MPs like Ben Kallos propose a law that forces property owners to carry out the necessary repairs and dismantle scaffolding after six months at the latest.

It is time. Many New Yorkers complain about how the scaffolding darkens the sidewalks, attracting drug dealers and the homeless. Understandable, because one of the few advantages of the scaffolding becomes apparent when it rains: You stay dry even without an umbrella.

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