Accidental Skyline

A blueprint for a more intentional city

2013-present

Since the release of its Accidental Skyline report in 2013, MAS has been raising the alarm about the need for new rules and regulations to protect public assets like light, air, open space, and the character of the City’s neighborhoods from supertall towers and out-of-scale development.

View from Central Park of Proposed Development in Manhattan
MET Roof, Phil Davis. Modified by MAS to show proposed development

New York is experiencing an unprecedented boom in as-of-right, out-of-scale development that flout the intention of our zoning code. We urge the City to address the following interrelated issues that have given rise to supertalls and out-of-scale development:

  • Loopholes and outdated rules, including provisions for air rights transfers, zoning lot mergers, height factor buildings, structural voids, and floor area bonuses, along with deficient environmental review evaluations and questionable mitigation enforcement;
  • Inadequate public input, including significant actions with no public review, resistance to community-based planning initiatives; and
  • Lack of accountability, including an opaque process rife with inaccessible and incomplete information and insufficient building applications.

Please visit our ten-point plan for reform: How Do We Fix It?

Why now?

If the problems these developments pose aren’t addressed, what’s at risk is a city that is darker, drearier, and more austere than its people deserve; a place where ordinary New Yorkers can’t find an affordable apartment while faceless corporations stockpile vacant investment properties. Much of this responsibility lies with the City itself, but developers also need to come to the table—and communities, too, must recognize the inevitable change in neighborhoods and be willing to consider compromises that provide a fair balance between public and private interest.

We need to act together to make sure the city that gets built is the city we want: a vibrant, bustling metropolis that creates healthy, fair housing opportunities for all of us, with plenty of light and air on our sidewalks, streets, and parks. We must close the loopholes that allow buildings to change the paradigm of the city willy-nilly. We must demand honest and realistic evaluations of the pros and cons of any particular project and respectful engagement with communities about their wants and needs.

Shadows

Throughout its history, MAS has maintained that access to light, air, and open space is critical to the well-being of New Yorkers and the economic health of New York City. The shadow studies produced by MAS in 2013 demonstrated that existing zoning and environmental review regulations do not sufficiently protect Central Park from the impact of nearby supertalls.

In 2017, we updated released updated studies that not only confirm the prevalence of adverse shadow impacts but also show how access to light and air will be significantly reduced in other neighborhoods across the city.

View from Central Park of Proposed Development in Manhattan
Looking south, showing December 2014 shadows compared to projected December 2025 shadows

Skyline

MAS rigorously monitors new supertalls and out of scale development. We are tracking more than one hundred new projects that have recently been completed, are under construction, or have been planned.

Accidental Skyline : Horizontal
Accidental Skyline : Horizontal
Images show how various important views throughout New York City would be altered by current and proposed developments: Views to historic buildings obscured, daylight on the public realm significantly reduced, and ultimately, the character of several neighborhoods altered.

Air Rights

The map in the feature below reveals 3.7 billion square feet of unused development rights citywide, enough air rights to build more than 1,300 Empire State Buildings.

There are 1.8 billion square feet of unused development rights in residential zones alone. Built to their maximum envelope, these properties could accommodate more than a million units of housing. Although some of these developments rights might be “landlocked” or unsuitable for redevelopment, the numbers still show that the city has ample room to grow under the current zoning.

Accidental Skyline : Horizontal
Map shows where new development could occur. Launch map and click on any property to learn how many unused development rights might be available.

How Do We Fix It?

We identified three primary goals for the Accidental Skyline work:

CLOSE LOOPHOLES THAT ALLOW DEVELOPERS TO SKIRT ZONING RULES & ENVIRONMENTAL REGULATIONS:

  • Strengthen Regulations That Control Height and Bulk
  • Clarify Zoning Regulations and Definitions
  • Evaluate Zoning Floor Area Bonuses
  • Strengthen Mitigation Requirements for Environmental Review
  • Comprehensively Evaluate and Disclose Impacts of Development

GIVE NEIGHBORHOODS A SEAT AT THE TABLE:

  • Increase Local Representation and Opportunities for Review of Land Use Actions
  • Increase Local Representation and Opportunities for Review of Land Use Actions
  • Increase resources and opportunities for community planning

HOLD THE CITY AND DEVELOPERS ACCOUNTABLE TO THE PUBLIC INTEREST:

  • Create New Accountability Measures and Strengthen Existing Ones
  • Improve Development and Land Use Applications
  • Improve Online Resources by Making Data Standardized, Comprehensive, and Accessible
2017 Accidental Skyline Report
The Accidental Skyline: 2017

The Accidental Skyline Report 2017

This new report by The Municipal Art Society of New York addresses the issues surrounding citywide out-of-scale buildings, as well as zoning and environmental regulations. Read »»

This report by The Municipal Art Society of New York addresses the issues surrounding tall buildings and their influence on the scarce open spaces in New York – particularly West 57th Street and Central Park.

Help Make This Work Possible
Advocate with us online

Show your support with #AccidentalSkyline

Follow MAS:

Get updates about our work!
Support Our Advocacy

MAS members and partners are crucial to everything we do. Please consider contributing to MAS and joining our community of advocates.

Support Us
Contact Us

Contact a staff member to learn more or join the campaign. planning@mas.org >

Members of the media looking to discuss this project further, contact us at mbaron@mas.org >

Planning House Ad

Help us continue our planning advocacy work on behalf of New York City and all of its residents for another 125 years.

Become a member Donate
Shadow Demonstraction, 1987
1987

Stand Against the Shadows

More than 800 New Yorkers join MAS in Central Park and raise black umbrellas aloft to demonstrate the shadow that would be cast onto the park by a proposed tower on Columbus Circle. That project was modified to mitigate shadows effects in response to the public outcry. Thirty years later, our advocacy for light, air, and sound city planning continues through the Accidental Skyline project.

View Our Full History