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JAMA Revisited
February 7, 2017

The Medical Aspects of the Modern “Sky Scraper”

JAMA. 2017;317(5):540. doi:10.1001/jama.2016.19841

The semi-revolution in urban architecture of the past few years, to which we owe the lofty structures that make a distant view of even the flattest of our cities picturesque, has a side that perhaps calls for some attention to be given it by the medical profession. The guardians of the public health have a right to investigate and, if needs be, pass judgment on any novelty that may directly or indirectly affect it, and it is quite possible that there exist in these sky-scraping structures, with all their advantages in economy of ground surface, some serious disadvantages that call for our professional consideration. As yet they are not universal even in limited districts, but the tendency is toward their multiplication, and the first natural suggestion is to query what will be the result of so materially affecting the ventilation and sunlighting of our streets when they have become as they may only deep narrow canyons, which are already strongly suggested in some even of the wider streets of our newer cities. A clever writer of fiction has even utilized this suggestion in the title of a novel and his description of the bird’s-eye view of the modern town and comparison of it to the bad lands of the West is an apt and striking one. In the narrower streets of the older cities of the Eastern border of our country, where buildings of only ordinary height produce some of the evils spoken of, the modern high structures can only aggravate them, and yet it is there that the craze, as we may call it, is just at present in its most pronounced phase. While in Chicago, where this modern construction can be said to have originated, there is now a restriction as to the height, and the day of the excessive sky scraper may be said to have past, in New York they are reported to be projecting thirty or forty story structures and exceeding the most extravagant ideas of the past. It would seem to be time to call a halt from motives of even ordinary prudence if for nothing else.

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