Magazine July 9, 2012, Issue

To the Scaffold!

Construction workers work on scaffolding at the Plaza Hotel in New York, N.Y., May 23, 2007. (Keith Bedford/Reuters)

You hear it sometimes before you see it — the pang pang pang of rhythmic hammering, the clang of dropped metal, the smock of dropped wood. When you turn the corner you see the familiar sight: a crew of Central Americans or Africans humping pipes, girders, planks, and plywood from a truck and throwing them up into the air. Another scaffold is going up.

The technical name for these urban portes cochères is sidewalk sheds, and the city requires them whenever there is serious construction, demolition, or ordinary repair. Any building, from 19th-century brick or brownstone runts, to gargoyled beaux-arts matrons,

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