Since the crash, the buildings department has raced to strengthen some of its procedures. Last week, the agency announced that inspectors must be present when tower cranes are raised. Buildings Commissioner Patricia Lancaster issued a carefully calibrated vow to shut down any crane "operating in an unsafe manner in violation of applicable requirements."
But we expect no less of city government when innocent citizens are slaughtered while sitting comfortably in their apartments. And while the crane horror adds a whole new dimension to the problem, this is hardly the first time the building surge of the past few years has prompted public fear and rage.
For all its economic benefits, the boom has turned vacant lots and demolition sites into battle zones across the city. The weapons of assault are backhoes, bulldozers, and piledrivers. And while many local elected officials have tried to respond to panicky constituents, the complaints have generally prompted little more than snickers at City Hall.
There, the dominant attitude remains the Doctoroff Doctrine—the policy espoused by ex–deputy mayor and still top Bloomberg economic adviser Daniel Doctoroff: The more building the better, and don't sweat the small stuff.
City Hall Ignored the Hazards of the Building Boom
Essentially, current buildings-department regulations create a race between aggrieved citizens and corner-cutting developers: Neighbors have to muster all their energy to stop illegal work, while builders try to outrun them, getting foundations in the ground and walls up before anyone throws a red flag. Then the developers' lawyers go to work, arguing that so much money has already been expended that civic decency should allow them to continue.