Just recently I had the privilege to attend a 100th anniversary party held for an apartment building that was constructed by architect Charles A. Platt in the year 1905-1906. Ten of the current residents in this tony building opened their homes to exclusive viewings restricted to the snooty geegawers on the guest list (which admittedly I cannot be found, but my associate who brought me there was.)
After quietly hobnobbing with the stuffy elites -- okay, I think I made my point-- we made quick exit back to real life.
My associate, a fellow statist with an extensive real estate development background was quite astounded at the short timeline in which this building was erected.
From what little I know of New York City history, there was no buildings department back in 1905. There was relatively no zoning codes, no landmarks commission, and generally little government oversight into real estate development. The only regulation I can think of that this building was subject to was a height restriction, as laid down in the "New York Tenement Law" which stated that buildings could not be built higher than 1.5 times the street width. With that one condition, the architect/developer designed an amazing 11-story building which till today is quite unmatched in certain respects.
My associate, although he has yet to shed his statist-informed illusions, is one who was never shy to flirt with the given rules of the officialdom. His business decisions are mostly informed by what he thinks he can get away with, rather than what will be readily praised by the most straight-laced bureaucrat who could care less about your timeframe or budget expenses.
After quickly summing up all the things that slow down our current projects, be it dealing with OSHA, the NYC Building Department, the Landmarks Commission, the Mayors Office (for the issue of getting waivers on ADA compliance not feasible in a landmarked structure which is mostly untouchable to its legal owner), it is no surprise that although our generation is far ahead in terms of technology and construction techniques, we are far behind in terms of where we could have been if the overall regulatory environment had not reared its ugly head over the past century.
Slightly-related fun fact of the day: Kennedy is old Gaelic for "ugly head".
Per the NYC Department of Buildings:
"In 1860, after a tenement fire took 20 lives, New York City's building laws were extensively revised and strengthened. At that time, the position of "Superintendent of Buildings" was created within the Fire Department to enforce the new structural safety laws. An independent "Buildings Department" in Manhattan was later founded in 1892. Each Borough President's office had an autonomous Superintendent of Buildings until 1936, when a citywide Department of Buildings was created."
In any case, the avalanche-ish erosion of private property rights could be said to have begun with the Zoning act of 1926, in which the city got the idea that they have the right to dictate property usage types, dimensional and bulk restrictions, and the construction configuration requirements. While it was more lax in the early years, over the century it has started to resemble the old dictum "everything not prohibited is compulsory and everything not compulsory is prohibited."
The Landmark Commission was created in the 70's which marks the begining of statists interfering in purely aesthethic planning. From this point forward, we can expect to see a new government agency, the sole purpose of which will be to render decisions of property aesthethics for non-landmarked neighborhoods or properties, perhaps to enforce the color you will be able to paint your home, regulating the species and allowable dimensions for your landscaping elements, what style of bathroom fixtures are permissible, and if we are very lucky, even the type of screws you will use to build said home.
Lest you think I'm exagerrating, I can assure you that there are many stato-masochists who are already clammering for a "Buildings Design Authority" to be established, and one may proceed to www.wirednewyork.com and search the forums for many such fine examples.