Accidental Skyline


Too often, New Yorkers are caught off guard by new development in their neighborhoods. The Accidental Skyline offers tools to help demystify the city planning process and bring the public into the conversation.


The maps above show where new development could occur across New York City – allowing New Yorkers to assess how their neighborhoods could be impacted. These maps add to a body of work available on this site, including The Accidental Skyline, presentations and media coverage. Additional reports will highlight how other cities are responding to these challenges.

Tips on using the maps
How transferable air rights work
Data sources

About the work

MAS embarked on its Accidental Skyline initiative in 2013 in response to the super-tall towers rising along the southern border of Central Park. For the most part, these buildings are being built as-of-right, without public or environmental review. When completed, they will cast new shadows on the park and change views of the city. While MAS’s work started in response to the buildings near Central Park, the issue is one that increasingly concerns neighborhoods across the city. Many New Yorkers feel left out of the planning process and are unaware of development proposals until shovels hit the ground.

Why now?

These slender, hyper tall buildings are a result of a hot real estate market driven by high demand for luxury condos and made possible by relatively recent advancements in building technologies. Because there has been no public process associated with these buildings, many New Yorkers were surprised when construction started. Growth is good for the city, but with development pressure high in many areas, projects should proceed in a thoughtful and transparent manner.

How do we fix it?

We have four main goals in this work:

  1. Ensure robust civic engagement as the city develops and grows
  2. Bring greater transparency to the city’s planning process
  3. Highlight the impacts of development on NYC neighborhoods, including parks, open space, infrastructure and the skyline
  4. Secure policy and regulatory changes that protect the city’s vital open spaces and create a better balance between benefits received by private developers and impact on the public realm

There are many regulatory and policy changes that could provide more transparency and pursue a more thoughtful approach to development:

Protecting parks from overdevelopment. The city could limit building height around parks, especially small parks, where one or two large buildings would greatly affect the amount of sunlight a park receives, or establish setback or design requirements that reduce shadows. Another option is having developers contribute to a park maintenance fund to offset impacts of development.

Alerting Community Boards and elected officials when zoning lot mergers occur. Right now local officials and Community Boards are not notified when developers assemble air rights, meaning that the process largely happens behind closed doors. A simple notification could bring more transparency to the process.

Requiring public review for zoning lot mergers above a certain threshold, and potentially even a higher level of review for very large transfers. There is a precedent for this in other areas of the city. For example, certain air rights transfers in the Theater District require approval by the City Planning Commission. The bigger the transfer, the higher the level of scrutiny.

Implementing a temporary moratorium for super tall towers (towers over 600 feet) that haven’t already gone through public review. This would give the City a chance to take a pause while it develops a better strategy.

Take a minute, explore the maps and resources on this page, and see what could be coming to your neighborhood. You might be surprised.


The Accidental Skyline Report

Highlights the issues and frameworks allowing super-tall buildings. Shadow studies show potential impacts on Central Park

Read ›

Open Map Data

Data sets used to create the maps. Please read the important release notes (PDF) first

Download (189 MB) ›

Brian Lehrer: Shadows on Central Park

MAS Executive Director Margaret Newman discusses building in New York with Jill Lerner

Watch ›

NY-LON Simultaneous Seminars: Tall Buildings

Simultaneous seminars in New York and London explored skyline issues affecting both cities

More info ›

WNYC: This $90M View Could Slice into Your Sunshine

Janet Babin highlights how new construction is affecting sunlight in Central Park

Listen / Read ›

NY Times: Seeing a Need for Oversight of New York’s Lordly Towers

Michael Kimmelman urges public oversight of new ultra-tall towers

Read >

A Packed Forum for a Rising Concern

Hundreds of New Yorkers gathered to hear about the “Central Park Supertowers”

Read >

Testimony: Sunshine Task Force Town Hall

Testimony given to Community Board 5 on April 28, 2015.

Read >

Testimony: Intro 737

MAS strongly supports Intro 737, and applaud Council Member Levine for taking a lead on addressing the impacts of new buildings on our treasured public spaces.

See our Recommendations >