Mona Chalabi: New York is choked with scaffolding. Why does it stay up so long? | New York

Temporary scaffolding seems to be a permanent fixture of New York life. These metal and wood structures are thrown up quickly, in a matter of days or even hours, but their average lifespan is 495 days, according to data from New York City’s department of buildings.

But averages are always pesky because they can be so misleading. So I downloaded the dataset to take a closer look at the age of all 8,875 scaffolding projects that exist around New York (the dataset is kept very up to date so these numbers are from this month).

A pretty small fraction, just 6% of all the projects, have only been up for a month. About a quarter have been in existence for one to six months and a shocking 22% of all current scaffolding projects (or sidewalk sheds, as they’re called) have been up for over two years.

Scaffolding projects often go up for essential repairs and they can protect pedestrians from falling debris and equipment. However necessary they might be, they’re also kind of a pain. They block sunlight and make sidewalks feel like a labyrinth, especially if you are navigating with a wheelchair. Some have even claimed that they can increase crime because of the added nooks for people to hide in.

The city is working to reduce the duration of scaffolding projects using a range of initiatives, including low-interest loans to businesses or using fines to penalize buildings that leave up scaffolding for too long. Another suggestion from the Manhattan borough president’s office has been for the city to use drones to check facades rather than putting up scaffolding. It is likely to require a range of solutions – dismantling such a key part of New York life won’t be easy.

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