Hungarian artist Andi Schmied, on a mission to expose the dark side of luxury real estate, visited 25 different exclusive Manhattan high-rise apartments disguised as Gabriella, an “artsy” Hungarian billionaire. In the process, she discovered something shocking about the communities below these looming structures. Some of them were completely covered by large shadows.
“[These buildings] are the ones you can see from every single hidden corner of the city. They are the ones that are going to stay here for the future,” says Schmied in her TED talk. “They are not only disturbing visually, or psychologically, giving the message to the rest of the citizens, “This is what you’re never going to see, but you really have to look at them,” but they are also casting huge shadows over the cities.” These shadows are cause for serious concern, especially regarding the natural environment.
“In the south side of Central Park, the flora and fauna completely changed since these buildings got there because of the lack of light. Not to even mention the human experience,” Schmied says. Journalist Warren St. John even brought up this issue at his community meeting. He proved his point that shadows impact plant growth by pointing out how in an area of Central Park filled with constant sunlight, trees in the sunlit area contained buds. Trees beyond them contained no buds because those trees were located where buildings’ shadows were. Additionally, the buildings did not violate any sort of protection Central Park had since they were outside the park, implying that any building could legally be built around Central Park and still harm it through its shadow.
The effect of decreased sunlight exposure on the human experience is no light matter either. Many citizens have admitted that they felt depressed and isolated after this loss of sunlight. A 2013 New York Times article about the issue describes the situation of the 72-year-old musician, Ms. Pederson. Due to the construction of a high rise next to her, she was forced to close over two of her south-facing windows. Her living room and the bedroom became dark, her plants died, and her breathing was constricted due to construction dust. The apartment that Ms. Pederson had lived in since college had become a depressing place to live. Bill Seigler, a 72-year-old retiree, was a victim to another situation where sunlight was taken from him. “It’s like being plunked down and surrounded by the walls of a castle,” he said in the article. It’s also worth noting that poor air quality, a likely consequence of luxury high-rise construction projects, has been shown to cause a decline in mental health.
With so many factors making the lives of these citizens miserable, it’s no surprise that the future seems bleak for those (quite literally) living under the shadow of the ultra-rich.