by Guest Writer Brandon Gage
Rooftop access should be a right in New York City
New York City real estate is some of the most valuable on the planet. Land is at a premium, and skyward is the only direction in which to construct. Developers desperately outbid themselves on erecting phallic monstrosities that will earn them ungodly amounts of money, slash their taxes, and render living in the Big Apple unjustifiably more expensive for everyone else.
Like individual New Yorkers, each residential building is unique in its own way no matter when it was built. They share certain features including means of egress and ingress, basements, common corridors, staircases, and sometimes elevators. And while all of them have roofs, only in some are residents allowed to enjoy that untapped, secure, open-air square footage.
Commercial venues are encouraged to acquire permission to utilize their building’s rooftops due to the extra revenue that they generate for the establishments’ owners. In fact, retail spaces are commonly unleaseable without their respective upper levels, despite the increased cost.
People, however, are seldom presented with that opportunity unless the rent-collecting gentry issues special approval or has already invested in significant modifications.
That must change.
This is not to say that landlords and property management firms need to adorn roofs with turf, furniture, or amenities that are unnecessary for tar beaches. Let those who pay to live there sort out the decorative details. The point is that providing an exclusive outdoor spot to lounge in the Sun, work out, or stargaze at night is a small request. And it would boost the morale of a city that has been through the fucking ringer and is doing its best to recover and evolve.
During the COVID-19 lockdown, the mercurial oasis atop my concrete and cinderblock prewar habitat became a refuge upon which to clear my head, burn some calories, and stare toward twinkling infinity.
Behind me, a sea of staggered ceilings fills the blocks between my dwelling and The George Washington Bridge, a permanently illuminated beacon blinking a couple of miles to my North.
On warm days, I would tan and exercise, and when I got lucky, watch a storm approaching from the West. At night, when I lay down on a blanket and remained still enough, I observed the Earth’s rotation as stars slowly drifted behind the taller structures in the neighborhood.
There were even instances wherein I fell asleep, bong in hand, under the heavens, never once feeling vulnerable, unsafe, or on someone else’s schedule.
Time, it seems, prefers the sanctum of the indoors.
Meanwhile, down in Hell’s Kitchen, three of my friends occupy a penthouse unit with a private terrace, where they graciously host periodic social gatherings of the finest trade in the land. Beats and boys thump and grind until our joints start screaming, but in this setting, who cares?
Their quaint party pulpit is nestled amongst countless skyscrapers, surrounded by life, beneath a canopy of endless, cloud-brushed azure. Planes crisscross the expanse as the Sun dips below the mirrored horizon. Bronze twilight morphs into a blackness decorated with pinpoints of cosmic fury which because of light pollution are visible only from distinct spots like this and mine.
Incidentally, you know those buzzing mini-moons that line the streets and burn your retinas?
Fuck those things. Let there be night.
Nevertheless, universal rooftop access certainly harbors potential liability concerns and legal ramifications, and although they are valid, they are not insurmountable. We can overcome.
Rooftops bring joy, strengthen the bonds of community, and enhance the urban experience.
Access should be a right.
Brandon Gage is a political columnist and editor who is sick of right-wing bullshit preventing us from having nice things.