Why New York City Is Endlessly Covered in Scaffolding

Sam Denby from Half as Interesting used his distinctively frantic manner to explain why New York City appears to always be covered in scaffolding, specifically sidewalk sheds. According to NYC law, sidewalk sheds are “temporary structures built to protect people or property” during construction. The law was first passed in 1979 after a student was tragically killed by falling masonry.

The city responded by passing Local Law 10 in 1980, later amended by Local Law 11 in 1998, which required that all buildings higher than six stories must have their facades inspected every five years. If they fail inspection, the building owner is required to repair the facade, and in the meantime, install a sidewalk shed to protect people from falling debris.

Why New York City Is Endlessly Covered in Scaffolding

As with every law, there is a loophole. In this case, that loophole has been exploited to allow these unsightly, often odiferous, structures to stand indefinitely in the lieu of actual building repairs.

The problem is, the law isn’t working as intended. Buildings fail inspection all the time, basically because New York is chock-full of very old buildings with exterior masonry…. But you know what’s really expensive: repairing the facades of very old buildings with exterior masonry …. You know what isn’t that expensive? Indefinitely leaving up a sidewalk shed. You see, there’s no law limiting how long a sidewalk shed can stay up, and while there are fines for not conducting facade repairs, they’re poorly enforced.

Denby further explains that there are were plans to help beautify and modify these ubiquitous sidewalk sheds, but those too are more expensive to maintain than a simple sidewalk shed.

But, if you can believe it, it turned out this is more expensive than this, and given that this entire problem stems from building owners trying to be cheap, basically nobody wanted to pay four times more money to inconvenience people more stylishly.

Needless to say, many New Yorkers are not happy about this situation.