There’s no denying the fact that the face of Manhattan has drastically changed over the past few decades. Indeed, the grungy, grimy, and seedy Columbus Circle in Martin Scorcese’s classic Taxi Driver is almost unrecognizable compared to the clean, bright and touristy Columbus Circle of today. Manhattan is undoubtedly a much nicer place to live now than then–but hardly anyone can afford to in what’s now one of the most expensive real estate markets in the country. It’s next to impossible to find cheap housing.
Are Manhattan landmarks to blame for the lack of affordable housing?
In a scathing report released last summer by the Real Estate Board of New York, critics accused the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC), a government agency that protects historically significant buildings and districts, of contributing to a large part of this problem. Landmarked buildings can’t build upward, be demolished, or otherwise undergo any significant changes. Supporters of landmarking claim that this ensures New York’s historic architectural character, but opponents maintain it’s become too much of a good thing.
Are these New York City landmarks worthy of their status?
Per the REBNY’s report, almost one in every four buildings in Manhattan is landmarked, limiting the upward development Manhattan so desperately needs. Some areas of Manhattan are almost entirely protected–72% of Community District 2 (SoHo, NoHo, and Greenwich Village), for instance, is landmarked. This wouldn’t be so bad, REBNY’s members claim, if most of the affected buildings were actually deserving of the landmark status. A full 93% of landmarked buildings are protected only because they’re in a “historic district,” and the remaining 7% are actual individual landmarks.
REBNY maintains that the end result is an unnecessarily brutal real estate market. Because so much of the borough is practically untouchable, the cost to develop the remaining real estate has skyrocketed. It’s a perfect example of supply-and-demand at work.
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