In the Dark

A life in the shadows: Take a look at some of Manhattan’s darkest and brightest streets

East Media
A life in the shadows: Take a look at some of Manhattan's darkest and brightest street. The Manhattan Skyline at Dusk. (Courtesy Bobby Mikul)
A life in the shadows: Take a look at some of Manhattan's darkest and brightest street. The Manhattan Skyline at Dusk. (Courtesy Bobby Mikul)

A comprehensive shadow study of Manhattan has been done by the New York Times. The analysis plots average shadows over the course of the year from every building in Manhattan shedding light (or rather shade) on New York’s gloomiest and brightest streets.

By hovering over areas of the map, one can find out how much a certain street spends its time in the shadows. This data is presented as a percentage of daylight hours and is split in three to account for different times of year: Summer, Winter, and Spring/Fall. The amount of time a particular area is shadowed is written as a unit of time. For example, the intersection of Broadway and Murray Street spends on average: Four hours and 35 minutes in shadow during the Summer (38 percent); two hours and 34 minutes in shadow during Fall/Spring (29 percent) and two hours and 47 minutes in shadow during the Winter (46 percent).

(Courtesy John St John / Flickr)

(Courtesy John St John / Flickr)

This information changes pretty drastically at the slightest movement of your cursor due to the nature of shadowing. However, the most consistently shadowy areas on the Manhattan grid is the Financial District (FiDi). Much of its narrow streets were designed by the early Dutch settlers of “New Amsterdam,” and thanks to the hefty clump of skyscrapers now in the vicinity, they seldom see natural light. One location in particular that this author spotted was Exchange Place. In this dark corner of FiDi, sunlight only gets through three percent of the time in Summer, while the narrow street lies in shadow for the whole of Spring, Fall, and Winter. How cheery.

Today, as some may know, is the winter solstice. After rising in the southeast at 5:44 a.m. this morning, the sun will set in the southwest at the depressingly early time of 4:22 p.m. this afternoon. During the Summer months, this will change. Days will be longer, the sun will rise and set farther north, and most of Manhattan’s shadows will be shorter. This is due to New York’s longitude: by being closer to the North Pole, the city has access to more daylight during the Summer and less in the winter—hence the dramatic shadow interplay.

“One of the beauties of Manhattan, particularly in spring or fall, is that the grid is about 30 degrees off true North,” said New York–based architect and shadow consultant Michael Kwartler in the New York Times. “That means the intersections tend to be very bright because the sun is going diagonally across them at lunchtime.” Speaking of these intersections, Kwartler added that they “tend to be brighter than the streets in between, so it creates this really fabulous rhythm in Midtown of light-dark, light-dark.”

The study in detail can be found here. Those interested in learning about how density, FAR, and vertical development enables—or blocks—sunlight can explore this map from the Municipal Art Society.

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