The Fight to Keep Prospect Park Sunny

626 Flatbush Avenue, a new development in Prospect Lefferts Gardens, near Prospect Park

Developers have been planning several new buildings around Central Park, tall condo towers for wealthy buyers seeking a pied-a-terre overlooking the park, which has New Yorkers worried about one thing in particular: sunlight. You can’t build a yogurt chain in the Ramble, but you can bathe it in cold darkness so no one will want to wander there. There’s also a similar fight going in Brooklyn, where developers want to build on Flatbush Avenue in Prospect Lefferts Gardens a residential tower 24 stories tall. “This will be literally 50 percent taller than any other existing structure around the park,” one activist told Gothamist. 

The tower is just one of several planned for the neighborhood, the latest caught in developers’ sights: a map in the Times earlier this year shows 14 planned developments in the 60 square blocks between, roughly, Ocean and New York avenues, Sterling Street and Linden Boulevard. A judge has granted an injunction against new construction at a site on Flatbush Avenue, Gothamist reports, while the court determines whether the property’s developer committed a proper environmental review. The ruling was in response to a suit filed by activists.

There’s a lot at stake with this development and others in the area, like the threat of intensifying gentrification and the increased strain on public services like schools and transit.  (On the other hand, there’s also the promise of new affordable and middle-class housing along with whatever luxury housing is built.) But one quality of life issue that stands out among the rest is the threat of casted shadow.

626 Flatbush Avenue is one block from the eastern border of the park, almost perfectly aligned with the newly built LeFrak Center, whose guiding principle seemed to be one of restoration, pastoralization—not of development and darkness. And because Prospect Lefferts Gardens lacks the zoning protections that neighborhoods like Park Slope have, the building could, in a nightmare scenario, be just the first of many, until the whole park is lined with sun-blocking buildings a la some scheme worthy of Mr. Burns.

As someone who keeps the shade of the window next to his desk undrawn even in intense direct sunlight (to the consternation or bewilderment of those who sit around him), I’m an advocate. But it has real benefits in urban planning beyond the hippy-dippy glories of Mother Sun: it has real health benefits, for starters. According to Science Daily:

The lack of sun in urban areas doesn’t just make life gloomy; it can be harmful to your health, [a researcher said]… “Lack of natural lighting can cause severe physiological problems,” such as serious mood changes, excessive sleeping, loss of energy and depression.

It attracts people to come out and stay out, to enjoy open spaces which in turn brings others out to enjoy those spaces, too. It’s access to open spaces, fresh air, and natural light that make urban spaces dynamic and livable—not high-rise condos for the rice. Jane Jacobs once called shadows “a great eraser of human beings.” At a recent meeting about the subject vis a vis Central Park, one advocate said “studies have shown the temperature difference caused by shadows could reach up to 20 degrees—what if we lowered the room temperature by that right now?”

Follow Henry Stewart on Twitter @henrycstewart

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