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When Your Million-Dollar NYC Skyline View Disappears

Empire State Building in Manhattan, New York

The age-old debate regarding the need for regulations governing the New York City skyline has reemerged. A recent New York Times article raised the question in response to a new luxury residential tower rising blocks away from the Empire State Building, which will obstruct the view for those who have long cherished the iconic structure visible from their windows.

While other cities like D.C., Paris and London have implemented height restrictions that prevent developers from building skyscrapers within certain regions, New York only has one legally designated viewshed—the view of an area from a specific vantage point. The panorama of Lower Manhattan from the Brooklyn Heights Promenade was preserved through community action efforts in the 1970s. Outside of this, developers have been and continue to be at liberty to erect skyscrapers anywhere throughout the city, even if it means blocking views of landmarks like the Chrysler and Empire State buildings.

New York's layout differs from these other cities, making it less conducive to defined viewsheds. The 1961 zoning resolutions established rules based on square footage per lot size. Proposing new laws for added public benefits from buildings on prime real estate is complex to enact. Zoning resolutions of this kind are challenging, given their implications for revenue supporting public services. Yet, it's important to recognize that homeowners' property values can also be affected when cherished landmark views are now obscured by new skyscrapers that may not be so charming or iconic.

And while there is opposition from those expressing concern over obstructing Manhattan’s iconic skyline, others argue that the new skyscrapers are necessary for city growth and more housing options. They claim in a city with limited space, vertical expansion becomes a practical solution for accommodating a continuously growing population within a confined footprint. They also justify this growth with the argument that many of the supertalls attract an influx of wealthy individuals, who contribute to a large percentage of the city’s tax revenue.

Clearly there are valid arguments from both sides, yet there aren’t any signs that we will see resolution in the immediate future. Activists and academics have been advocating for stricter regulations for a decade now, yet we find ourselves in the same place as before.


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