Hundreds Fret About Superscrapers’ Shadows As Extell Rebuts
Shannon Ayala reports for Curbed.
The shadows that the so-called many “Central Park supertowers”-to-be will cast onto the city’s venerated green lung have stirred up a debate about height limits for buildings. It’s a heated topic, so naturally hundreds of people packed a hall at the 42nd Street library last night to hear arguments about what to make of the shadows—and what to do in light of them. Four of the towers are going up on West 57th Street, with three others set to rise nearby: 432 Park Avenue, MoMA’s Tower Verre, and the Zeckendorfs’ project on 60th Street that will be “like a 15 Central Park West.” At the meeting, politicians suggested revising Midtown’s zoning laws and making public commentary part of the mandatory review process through which each proposed skyscraper must pass. “The whole issue revolves around zoning,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. Brewer built on her case, in part, by recalling her role in a successful campaign to scale down the Time Warner Center to reduce its shadows on Central Park 26 years ago.
The shadow debate escalated when Community Board 5 organized a “Sunshine” task force late last year to consider them; it organized last night’s packed forum.
Gary Barnett, chief of mega-developer Extell, which is behind One57 and the Nordstrom Tower, defended his projects, emphasizing the economic returns and job creation the high-end buildings will bring to the city. “This is the wrong issue at the wrong time,” he said. He added that the new towers will generally be skinny anyway. “It will be a long, slender shadow,” he said. “It will only be for a few minutes.” His argument deepened: the shadows won’t impact the park’s vegetation, and there are already trees that put the south park of the park in shadow during some of the day.
Meanwhile, an analysis by the Municipal Art Society shows the longest shadows will stretch from 57th Street to as far as 67th Street across the park at 4pm in the fall. (Shadows are longest in fall and spring.) The report also shows the new shadows would more than double the length of the existing shadows that jut out from the southern end of the park. A landscape architect, Judith Heintz, pointed out that the same problem would not happen along Central Park North.
Warren St. John, who wrote New York Times op-ed “Shadows Over Central Park” in October, made a personal plea on stage, telling a story about bringing his daughter to Heckscher Playground when a shadow seemed to make everyone there leave. “It was a very sort of lonely feeling,” he said. “Shadows make the park less pleasant.”
Addressing responses that he was part of a NIMBY group, he explained, “This is about the backyard of New York City. Not any one person’s private space.” He also touched on a major theme of the night, that of the “select few,” or super rich, who will live in these towers at the expense of park-goers who will be—literally—overshadowed.
Barnett took offense at the jabs tossed around about the “elite.” “We could be a little more inclusive,” he said. “There’s no reason for us to knock other people.”
Margaret Newman, MAS’s executive director, brought up examples of anti-shadow codes in cities like San Francisco and Fort Lauderdale (warning: PDF!), where buildings at certain heights require shadow review. Architect and urban planner Michael Kwartler noted the NYC’s laws actually do require (warning: another PDF!) a shadow assessment if the shadow will impact a vegetated area. But, he equivocated, “shadows are temperate. They move. … It depends on the situation.”