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Building the Skyline: The Birth and Growth of Manhattan's Skyscrapers


  • Barr, Jason M.

    (Department of Economics, Rutgers University, Newark)


The Manhattan skyline is one of the great wonders of the modern world. But how and why did it form? Much has been written about the city's architecture and its general history, but little work has explored the economic forces that created the skyline. This book chronicles the economic history of the Manhattan skyline. In the process, the book debunks some widely-held misconceptions about the city's history. Part I lays out the historical and environmental background that established Manhattan's real estate trajectory before the Skyscraper Revolution at the end of the 19th century. The book begins with Manhattan's natural and geological history and then moves on to how it influenced early land use and neighborhood formation, and how these early decisions eventually impacted the location of skyscrapers. Part II focuses specifically on the economic history of skyscrapers and the skyline, investigating the reasons for their heights, frequencies, locations, and shapes. The book discusses why skyscrapers emerged downtown and why they appeared three miles to the north in midtown, but not in between. Contrary to popular belief it was not due to the depths of Manhattan's bedrock, nor the presence of Grand Central Station. Rather midtown's emergence was a response to the economic and demographic forces that were taking place north of 14th Street after the Civil War. The book also presents the first rigorous investigation of the causes of the building boom during the Roaring Twenties. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the boom was largely a rational response to the economic growth of the nation and city. The last chapter investigates the value of Manhattan Island and the relationship between skyscrapers and land prices. Finally, an Epilogue offers policy recommendations for a resilient and robust future skyline. Available in OSO:

Suggested Citation

  • Barr, Jason M., 2016. "Building the Skyline: The Birth and Growth of Manhattan's Skyscrapers," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780199344369.
  • Handle: RePEc:oxp:obooks:9780199344369

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    Blog mentions

    As found by, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
    1. The Bedrock Myth and the Rise of Midtown Manhattan (Part I)
      by Jason Barr in Skynomics Blog on 2019-07-29 12:15:14
    2. The Bedrock Myth and the Rise of Midtown Manhattan (Part II)
      by Jason Barr in Skynomics Blog on 2019-08-06 12:31:54
    3. Skyscrapers and Housing Affordability: Debunking Misconceptions
      by Jason Barr in Skynomics Blog on 2021-03-23 12:10:58


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Wadjidou Boukari & Fenjie Long, 2023. "Reducing urban sprawl by optimizing housing production," Growth and Change, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 54(2), pages 529-549, June.
    2. Brueckner, Jan K. & Singh, Ruchi, 2020. "Stringency of land-use regulation: Building heights in US cities," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 116(C).
    3. Stephen Redding, 2023. "The Economics of Cities: From Theory to Data," Working Papers 304, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Center for Economic Policy Studies..
    4. Ahlfeldt, Gabriel M. & Barr, Jason, 2022. "The economics of skyscrapers: A synthesis," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 129(C).
    5. Martín Egozcue & Luis Fuentes García & Ričardas Zitikis, 2023. "The Slicing Method: Determining Insensitivity Regions of Probability Weighting Functions," Computational Economics, Springer;Society for Computational Economics, vol. 61(4), pages 1369-1402, April.
    6. Ahlfeldt, Gabriel M. & Barr, Jason, 2022. "Viewing urban spatial history from tall buildings," Regional Science and Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 94(C).
    7. Auerbach, Jonathan & Wan, Phyllis, 2020. "Forecasting the urban skyline with extreme value theory," International Journal of Forecasting, Elsevier, vol. 36(3), pages 814-828.
    8. Jason Barr & Jennifer Johnson, 2020. "Skyscrapers and the Happiness of Cities," Eastern Economic Journal, Palgrave Macmillan;Eastern Economic Association, vol. 46(2), pages 344-377, April.
    9. Gao, Fugang & Ma, Xianlei & van der Krabben, Erwin & Ploegmakers, Huub & Shi, Xiaoping, 2022. "Causes of industrial land-use regulations in China: A share tenancy perspective," Land Use Policy, Elsevier, vol. 122(C).
    10. Jedwab, Remi & Barr, Jason & Brueckner, Jan K., 2022. "Cities Without Skylines: Worldwide Building-Height Gaps and their Possible Determinants and Implications," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 132(C).

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