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Columbia University Digital Knowledge Ventures The Architecture and Development of New York City with Andrew S. Dolkart
image The Birth of the Skyscraper The Future of the City
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The Future of the City
As buildings were getting taller, there were images created of what the future of New York was going to be, especially in the downtown commercial area where skyscrapers were sprouting up on blocks all over. And there was a tremendous controversy over what the future of the city held. Was the skyscraper something good for New York? Or was it bad? Did it generate a tremendous amount of income? Was it a reflection of the dynamism of New York's business and commercial field or was it putting the streets in darkness all the time? Was it stifling light and air? Was it incredibly unhealthy for the people of the city, who could never see the sun in these skyscraper districts?

This is a 1908 drawing called "King's Dream of New York." I think most people must have seen this as King's nightmare of New York. It is a view looking up Broadway in which every single sight has a huge skyscraper on it. You can actually identify the Singer Building's profile in this design; it is the only identifiable building here. The city is so dense now that there are double-decker sidewalks; there are double layers of elevated railroads; there are bridges going across the sky, connecting buildings; and there are commuter zeppelins as a way of getting to work. You can see just a tiny slice of the East River waterfront, and there are four bridges going across. There are only four bridges over the East River at all, and so there is a huge amount of infrastructure and transportation. You wonder how the hundreds of thousands of people that would have filled these buildings could have gone to work? This is a reflection of the argument in New York about whether or not skyscraper construction should somehow be regulated.

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