Super-tall, super-skinny, super-expensive: the ’pencil towers’ of New York’s super-rich | Cities | The Guardian
The revamped laws also introduced the curious notion of transferable development rights (TDRs), also known as “air rights” – a mechanism that allows landowners to buy the unused air space of their neighbours and add it on to their own lot. It is the ultimate free-market planning clause: if your neighbour is not exploiting their potential to go skywards, you can buy it off them and make your building even taller. It seems fitting that in the cut-throat capital of capitalism, even the air is for sale.
Crucially, the law specifies that the properties must share at least 10ft of boundary, but there is no limit on how many connected lots can be assembled, leading to a situation where a developer can snake their way around a block, piecing together a complex jigsaw puzzle of adjoining lots, buying up neighbour after neighbour’s spare air in secret. It has become one of the most lucrative currencies: in some cases, developers have paid the same price per square foot for air rights as they did to buy the land itself.