In 1979, Grace Gold, a freshman at Barnard College, was killed when a piece of crumbling masonry fell from the eighth floor of a 67-year-old building in Morningside Heights and hit her.
Gold's death led to the passage of Local Law 10, which requires inspections of the facades of buildings taller than six stories at least every five years.
Since the passage of the law, there have still been tragedies – as well as building owners thumbing their noses at the requirement. Just two years after the passage of Local Law 10, a Legal Aid lawyer, Mayda E. Alsace, was killed in downtown Brooklyn by falling masonry from a building that hadn't been inspected.
A revision, Local Law 11 of 1998, mandates the inspection of all façades, not just those facing the street, and requires scaffolding with each inspection – which sometimes explains why we see so many sidewalks sheds across the city.
But none of these protections mattered earlier this year for two-year-old Greta Greene, who was struck and killed by some masonry falling from an Upper West Side Building.
Yesterday, the city's Department of Investigation released a damning report, finding that a private engineer filed a report in 2011 saying that the building was safe, without reviewing the site.
As Rick Rojas writes in today's Times: "Investigators found that in March 2014, more than a year before the girl was killed, a piece of the facade had fallen to the sidewalk in front of the building but was never reported to the Buildings Department. In October 2014, a consultant inspecting a neighboring building emailed the department to report a 'scary' crack. He urged the agency to 'get someone over pretty quick.' "
But no one ever came.
While the Buildings Department says it's implementing reforms to avoid future deaths like Greta Greene's, excuse me if I'm a little skeptical.
How much has really changed since 2008 when Buildings Department Commissioner Patricia Lancaster, resigned after a spate of horrible fatalities at construction sites?
When a child dies at the hands of a parent or a stray bullet, it understandably gets citywide attention. The cry is loud: How could the Police Department or child welfare workers prevented this from happening? It's important to give that kind of scrutiny to buildings inspectors as well. While they're never going to be considered New York's Finest or Bravest or Strongest or Boldest, they can be just as important.
As the city mounts an ambitious plan to build tens of thousands of new homes for New Yorkers and construction of all other sorts continues to boom, let's make sure that these places are safe when they're being built and later standing for decades to come. Otherwise, Local Law 10 is a piece of paper that's much lighter than some crumbling concrete.