“Warning! Clear Sidewalk Ahead”
During the last decade, the construction boom in NYC has brought a major change to our walking experience. Our sight-lines have been affected by the presence of thousands of pounds of scaffolding and sheds — those heavy duty structures that cover our buildings and sidewalks for months, or even years. They are eyesores on our cosmopolitan landscape, making us wonder if they will ever be removed.
As of August 12th, 2019, the NYC Department of Buildings reported that there are 9,027 active sheds in NYC, a total of 1,722,211.21 linear feet. Manhattan and Brooklyn have the highest number of sheds being assembled and, by the time you read this, the number will have increased.
Our buildings, storefronts, fire hydrants, trees, and even the sky above us seem to have disappeared. We are losing those NYC moments when we stop to admire our architecture and landmarks, the views that the entire world talks about. Will we soon forget what they look like? I wouldn’t be surprised if in the near future we come across signs saying “Warning! Clear Sidewalk Ahead!”
And it’s not just new construction. Did you know that under Local Law 11, owners of buildings six stories and taller are required to submit documentation regarding the condition of their buildings’ façades every five years to the NYC Department of Buildings? Engineers must evaluate the façades and determine if work needs to be done due to either poor maintenance, falling debris, or other dangers to the public. And, obviously, scaffolding and sidewalk sheds need to be erected before any repairs can be done. However, since there is legally no time restriction for these structures to remain on site, and proprietors often face issues (such as budgeting), work can be delayed, and these structures can remain for long periods of time.
So yes, our city is constantly building and repairing. These scaffolds and sidewalk sheds are needed to protect our pedestrians, as well as construction workers. It’s our civic responsibility to positively accept these structures.
However, I feel that this situation has gotten out of control! They are everywhere!
So, if scaffolding and sheds are going to be around for a while, why not make them more design friendly? Why not treat them like art or a public space? Make them clever, sustainable, pleasant, and more acceptable to our daily walking routine and to the businesses that get lost under these mazes of wood and metal posts. However, let’s not forget the main purpose of these structures — safety and maintaining regulations. They are not jungle gyms, places for acrobatic routines, or spots to watch a parade. They are for protection and we need to respect them.
Gladly, some companies, such as Urban Umbrella and Softwalks, started to realize that we can integrate budget friendly and recyclable elements into these structures, such as having a designated area to stop and sit, a shelf to enjoy a coffee, or a green space to admire. Questions to ask are: should these temporary structures be an extension of the façade; can they be a hang out area for people; could they be a “pre-welcoming” space for a business; can color, plants, seating, screens, speakers, or 3D experiences be added?
We can improve, innovate, support, and propose to be part of this unavoidable condition with a “livable” purpose. And let’s not forget: it will eventually be removed (hopefully reused) and perhaps, just maybe, the long awaited sign of “Warning! Clear Sidewalk Ahead” will appear.