By Amy Willis
Why do we think of Manhattan as the land of skyscrapers? Have you ever really noticed the shape of the Midtown skyline? EconTalk host Russ Roberts has, and he’s been perplexed. So this episode he welcomed Jason Barr to the program to discuss his book, Building the Skyline: The Birth and Growth of Manhattan’s Skyscrapers. There are very few skyscrapers between City Hall and 34th Street, but it’s probably not because of some of the reasons often cited.
1. What did “sprawl” look like in the early days of Manhattan? What was the (perhaps ironic?) role that public transportation played in this phenomenon?2. There’s a lot of discussion about the technologies that contributed to the era of skyscrapers, including elevator technology. Roberts suggests that the Otis elevator brake may have been the most important breakthrough in urban life. To what extent do you agree? If you don’t agree, what’s your nomination?
3. Why were skyscrapers concentrated in Midtown early on, rather than somewhere else on the island, and why didn’t skyscrapers push out the existing tenements? (Hint: This may be a Bootleggers and Baptists story…)
5. At the end of the conversation, Roberts asks Barr to speculate on what Manhattan would look like absent current zoning regulations and rent stabilization policies? To what extent do you agree with Barr’s answer? What do you think the island would look like in the short run and in the long run?