Big Data, Facade Version

by Don Friedman on May 23, 2017

The New York City Department of Buildings has a fascinating web page up that uses statistical analysis on the thousands* of facade inspection reports that are filed on a five-year cycle under the Facade Inspection Safety Program**. Here are a few of the facts that are clear, either directly stated or can be inferred from the data:

  • There are some 14,000 buildings in New York that are seven stories or more high.*** There are roughly a million buildings in New York, so only about 1/70 of the buildings in the city are seven stories high, which is a good cut-off for “mid-rise” height. Why so few? Because a lot of the city consists of free-standing houses (mostly in Queens and Staten Island), brownstone and other rowhouses (mostly in Brooklyn and Manhattan), tenements (mostly in Manhattan and the Bronx) and low-rise commercial buildings all over.
  • The number of seven-story or higher buildings is roughly the same in Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Queens. I would not have guessed that. My mental image of Queens, despite having grown up there in a seven-story apartment house, is block after block of two-story free-standing houses.
  • The combination of ordinary aging of facades and repair work has led to a steady state condition. There are currently three possible reported states for a facade upon inspection: safe, unsafe, and safe with a repair and maintenance program****. If you compare cycles 5, 6, and 7 (the most recent that is complete), the percentage of safe buildings is about the same, and the percentage of SWARMP facade has decreased only slightly. Basically, in the most recent cycle, a small percentage of the buildings that might previously have been classified as SWARMP are now classified as unsafe. The classification system was a bit different for cycle 4 and earlier, bit if we add the old class of “ongoing maintenance” to the SWARMP and we add the old class of “ongoing maintenance” to safe, we get again pretty much the same percentages.
  • The general climate of facade repair is working. A building marked as SWARMP automatically becomes unsafe in the next cycle if repair work has not been performed. so the 40 to 50 percent of buildings that have enough damage to be classified as SWARMP are getting fixed or else the percentage of unsafe buildings would have skyrocketed.


* Per the graphic, currently at more than 14,000 buildings per cycle, and we’re in the 8th cycle.

** Formerly known as Local 11; before that, known as Local Law 10.

*** Buildings six stories or lower are not subject to FISP inspection.

****AKA SWARMP, possibly the worst acronym I encounter on a regular basis.

Previous post:

Next post: