Accidental Skyline: How Do We Fix It?

illustration, skyline of Manhattan with proposed super-tall buildings

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.