After 21 years, the city removes the sidewalk shelter at a famous Harlem location

The removal of the sidewalk shed at 409 Edgecombe Avenue in Harlem, a significant landmark in New York City, marks the end of a 21-year period during which it obscured the view of this historic building. This action is part of Mayor Eric Adams’ broader initiative, the “Get Sheds Down” plan, to address the prolonged presence of sidewalk sheds throughout the city.

Historical Significance of 409 Edgecombe Avenue

409 Edgecombe Avenue has been a notable site for Black political organizing in the 20th century. It was home to the NAACP and its executive secretaries, Walter White and Roy Wilkins, as well as notable figures like W.E.B. DuBois and Thurgood Marshall. The sidewalk shed, first erected in 2002, was a result of a local law mandating regular façade inspections for buildings over six stories.

The building’s owners at the time found unsafe conditions around the brick and terra-cotta stone façade but failed to make repairs for about 20 years. In 2019, the city filed criminal charges against the building’s management company to compel them to proceed with the long-delayed repairs, which were recently completed​​​​.

Mayor Adams’ “Get Sheds Down” Plan

Mayor Adams criticized the property managers for their repeated failure to repair the building, leading to the sidewalk shed’s extended presence. He emphasized the “Get Sheds Down” plan as a strategy to speed up government processes and return neighborhoods to the residents.

The plan, launched in July 2023, has led to the removal of over 500 sidewalk sheds that covered nearly 11 miles of New York City sidewalks. These included 75 long-standing sheds, which had been in place for over five years.

The Mayor’s Office is working on reducing the approximately 8,500 sidewalk sheds across the city, which have been a source of visual obstruction and inconvenience​​​​.

Background and Criticism of Sidewalk Sheds

Sidewalk sheds, initially designed as temporary structures to protect pedestrians during construction, have often remained in place for extended periods. The story of sidewalk sheds in New York began in 1979 after Barnard student Grace Gold was killed by falling facade debris, leading to the passage of Local Law 11 in 1980.

This law required buildings six stories or taller to be inspected every five years and, if necessary, be equipped with a sidewalk shed until repairs were made. The city expanded this law in 1998 to include side and rear facades.

Critics argue that property owners have been incentivized to leave these sheds up for prolonged periods rather than completing the required work. The Adams administration seeks to change this trend and restore public spaces to the community​​​​​​.

In summary, the removal of the sidewalk shed at 409 Edgecombe Avenue in Harlem, an important historic site, is part of a larger effort by Mayor Adams and the NYC government to address the longstanding issue of sidewalk sheds in the city. This initiative aims to enhance the aesthetic appeal and accessibility of public spaces while maintaining necessary safety measures.

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