Monitoring

The New York City Department of Buildings has in recent years become very open with data, which makes my work and the work of everyone else in the field, easier. There are online databases that make it possible to find out quite a bit about buildings in the city. They are useful and visually bland to the point of being boring. The DoB also has a Construction Dashboard, which is visually stunning and for design professionals close to useless. (I am sure it is useful to urban planners, sociologists, and others interested in studying the patterns of construction in the city.)

Here’s the link: NYC Construction Dashboard.

Assuming that you see the same thing that I do when you click on the link – never a sure thing when dealing with the web – there are five charts: Job Type Per Borough, Permits Time Series, Active NB & A1, Permit Types by Community District, and Top 20 Development Projects. It’s worth a moment to discuss what each of these is. One moment of jargon: “NB” is a new building application (field by the design professional) or permit (filed by the contractor); “DM” is building demolition, partial or entire; “A1” is an Alteration Type 1, which is work that requires a change to the Certificate of Occupancy, such as changing the number of dwelling units in an apartment house, or changing a building’s use; “A2” is an alteration type 2, which is an alteration that does not affect the C of O; and “A3” is an Alteration Type 3, which is simple and minor work.

Job Type Per Borough is straightforward: select the job type that interest you – Alt 3s, for example, interest no one except the people directly affected by them – and you can see how many have been filed in the current quarter in each borough. For non-New Yorkers, keep in mind that the population of the boroughs varies drastically: Brooklyn and Queens are both between 2 and 3 million people, Manhattan and the Bronx are both between 1 and 2 million, and Staten Island is less than 1 million. So it’s not surprising that Brooklyn and Queens lead the way on new buildings. Staten Island’s surprising strength there is the result of single-family house construction.

The Permit Time Series lets you compare construction permit since 2000. The sharp dip from Covid in the second quarter of 2020 is quite clear, for example. This chart makes the numerical domination of Alt 2s clear as well. Most construction work does not change occupancy: outfitting a retail space, reconfiguring an apartment, or repair to an old building, for example.

Active NB and A1 is most interesting when you toggle to “proposed dwelling units”, which gives a sense of construction that might, in theory, some day, alleviate the city’s housing shortage.

Permit Types by Community District is only going to take sense to people who have know the different neighborhoods. For example, as I mentioned above, if you limit the map to new buildings, you can see the house boom on Staten Island. If you limit to to Alt 2s, the renovation of apartments on the Upper East and Upper West Sides and offices in midtown jumps out at you.

The Top 20 Development Projects is more for show than anything else. The biggest circle (the most expensive project in the city right now) is the new 270 Park Avenue, at an estimated $362,000,000. That sounds low, but okay.

If you shut down the boring databases, the city’s design and construction community would be crippled; if you shut down the dashboard, nothing much would happen, as the data is all available in other forms. But if you’re looking for a fast summary of what’s going on, the dashboard is an attractive way to get it.

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