A MYTH ABOUT NEW YORK SKYSCRAPERS? The Economist (August 20) had a review of Jason Barr’s BUILDING THE SKYLINE: THE BIRTH AND GROWTH OF MANHATTAN’S SKYSCRAPERS which punctures a myth that I have been passing on to people for quite a while. I read in a brochure I got many years ago at a City of New York tourist bureau that there are few skyscrapers in Manhattan between Midtown and the Wall Street area because there is no bedrock in that area—a geological explanation. I have been repeating the theory to visitors ever since. The Economist review calls it an “urban legend”.
The review prefers Barr’s explanation based on economic history. In the 1700’s the rich lived in the Wall Street area close to the port and the poor lived north of Wall Street. When public transport developed in the 1820’s and 1830’s, the rich moved farther north to Midtown, skipping over the area in between, which was considered undesirable. Development of Midtown followed the rich. The pattern has persisted.
Why skyscrapers? The grid system in Manhattan meant that the average plot of land was relatively small.