Throwing Shade In New York City

November 4th, 2013

New constructions in Manhattan threaten to throw shade on Central Park, and block sunlight.

Fueled by lax zoning laws, cheap capital and the rise of a global elite with millions to spend on pieds-à-terre, seven towers — two of them nearly as tall as the Empire State Building — have recently been announced or are already under way near the south side of the park. This so-called Billionaires’ Row, with structures rising as high as 1,424 feet, will form a fence of steel and glass that will block significant swaths of the park’s southern exposure, especially in months when the sun stays low in the sky.

At New York’s latitude, explained Michael Kwartler, the president of the Environmental Simulation Center, a New York City nonprofit that creates shadow assessments, buildings cast substantial northerly shadows throughout the day in colder months. At noon on the winter solstice, for example, those shadows reach twice a building’s height and fall due north before stretching to 4.2 times its height in a northeasterly direction, 90 minutes before sunset.

That means the shadows of the larger of these planned buildings would jut half a mile into the park at midday on the solstice and elongate to around a mile in length as they angled across the park toward the Upper East Side, darkening playgrounds and ball fields, as well as paths and green space like Sheep Meadow that are enjoyed by 38 million visitors each year.

“The cumulative effect of these shadows will be to make the park less usable and less pleasant to be in,” Mr. Kwartler said.

This could make for an interesting nuisance suit. But “lax” zoning? In New York? Huh? And, bless New York’s heart (I feel like such a Texan), there is actually a required “shadow assessment” when building new property.

Despite the likely impact these buildings would have on the park, there has been remarkably little public discussion, let alone dissent, about the plans. Part of this is because few people seem aware of what’s coming. Many of the buildings are so-called as-of-right developments that do not require the public filing of shadow assessments, which can ignite opposition with their eye-popping renderings of the impact shadows will have on surrounding areas.

BTW, when did “Throwing shade” become a thing? I’ve heard that phrase used quite a lot recently. I first heard it when apparently Michelle Obama threw shade at Boehner. And recently a student used it in class. Who knows?