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When scaffolding goes up on a Big Apple building, it can stay up for a long, long time

Scaffolding on Eighth Avenue in New York City Spencer Platt/Getty Images

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A New York moment:

Workers just put up the dreaded scaffolding outside of my apartment building. Under a 1980 law, passed after a piece of falling facade killed a pedestrian, all city buildings must have periodic facade inspections. Indeed just last year, two blocks from me, a huge chunk of a facade fell onto the sidewalk—thankfully injuring no one.

Buildings that need repairs must put up scaffolding and sheds to protect the sidewalk underneath until they complete repairs. There’s no deadline for completing repairs, so sometimes scaffolding will stay around a building for years.

At my apartment, the new wood structure has blocked out my view of the street, so for example I couldn’t spy on people buying Christmas trees from the sidewalk vendor downstairs. In the New York winter, months of snow and snow melt makes the scaffolding a heavy drip zone that might demand an umbrella.

But scaffolding is an actual problem for small businesses under it, who are cast into shadow. A shop isn't as visible on the street, and might not be for years, decreasing foot traffic. A New York Times piece from 2016 examined the various sides of the scaffolding debate: small businesses who want speedy repairs, and owners who say they sometimes can’t afford immediate repairs, which are often expensive on New York’s old buildings. A city council bill proposed placing a deadline on building owners to make repairs, but it doesn’t seem to have gone anywhere.

What amazes me in New York is the construction and deconstruction of these scaffolds. Ironically, given that the whole purpose of scaffolding is to protect pedestrians, the sidewalk traffic continues underneath as workers swing big beams into place a few feet overhead. At my building, a crew of about six guys showed up one day with a truck, built a metal frame on our building, and then filled in the frame with heavy wooden planks, creating a broad, walled wooden porch around the second floor of the building in less than 24 hours. The pedestrians passing underneath as the structure went up went on unscathed.

Worth your time:

Emmanuel Mensah, an Army soldier and a recent immigrant from Ghana, died in the tragic Bronx fire that killed 12 at the end of the year—but not before he saved four people out of the building. He died when he went back for a fifth.

This week I learned:

That J.J. Hanson, an advocate against assisted suicide whom I had profiled and spent time with, died at age 36.

Culture I am consuming:

The Crown Season 2 Episode 6. It's a completely gripping hour that crosses two storylines: the dark past of a former king of England and Queen Elizabeth’s genuine interest in evangelist Billy Graham. In the 1950s, a secret dossier comes to light—look up the Marburg or Windsor File—revealing dirt that the British government had suppressed about King Edward VIII, who abdicated in 1936 in order to marry a divorcée. The file reveals details about Edward’s relationship with Adolf Hitler and his Nazi sympathies. The king of England! This really happened—as did Elizabeth’s one-on-one meetings with Graham, which the show’s writers relate to the Edward story in a creative way.

Postscript: Email me with tips, story ideas, and feedback. ebelz@wng.org

Emily Belz

Emily is a former senior reporter for WORLD Magazine. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and also previously reported for the New York Daily News, The Indianapolis Star, and Philanthropy magazine. Emily resides in New York City.



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