Air Rights

Robyn Waldie. 21 November, 2016.

Global population, although no longer growing exponentially, lies at an unfathomable 7.4 billion. Alongside population growth is the development of Megacities; a population of 10 million or above is the current criteria which a city must meet in order to be deemed a Megacity. While the amount of people on the planet is increasing, the amount of land available to live on is not. Once all the land in a Megacity has been developed, there are only a few ways the growth can continue, outwards…
Or upwards.

New York City is the 6th largest Megacity worldwide, and is home to 23,632,722 people. With a population density of 1800 people per square kilometre, the suburbs of the city provide the majority of homes, whereas the centre provides space for businesses and economic hubs. It is this central business district which is in danger of becoming cramped and overcrowded. The finite amount of land within the exclusive catchment of the centre means that the owners of the land are desperate to profit off every exorbitant inch. This can cause an issue with each building trying to be the tallest leading to the iconic sky scrapers casting a dark shadow over the bustling streets below. Alongside the problems of darkness and the loss of world famous views over the New York skyline comes the added issue of increased congestion, as with more working space comes a natural increase in workers. This increase of traffic in and out of the city would create a plethora of issues as New York is the only American state in which most households do not own a car. The strain on public transport would increase tenfold, and as it is, the Big Apple does not conjure images of free flowing traffic.

In order to stop the over congestion of the city centre, air rights are issued to every plot of land. Air rights are the ability for a land owner to either develop into the air above their land, or sell it to other property or land owners. They are decided according to the neighbourhood zoning code, and there is a lot of profit to be made from selling thin air.

Each building in New York has air potential. This dictates how tall the structure can be, however each home or building owner has full control over their air potential. This means if two adjacent buildings have an air potential of five stories, and one has only utilised two stories of this, the extra three stories can be sold to the building across the road, increasing its air potential to eight stories. This trading of air rights may seem like a small deal on a domestic scale, but air can be a big money maker on an industrial scale. A new train station is to be built on Eighth Avenue on the site of an old post office. This $700 million dollar development has been long awaited, but as most train stations, it is a relatively flat structure. 1.5 million square feet of air rights have been unused in the plans for the station, and these are expected to sell for around $500 million dollars on today’s market, which would go a long way to helping the building of the new transport network.
In a city that is home to some of the world’s richest people and most valuable companies, its slightly ironic that thin air is one of the most sought after assets.