Re-envisioning The Manhattan Skyline To Reflect The City’s Jarring Income Inequality

Manhattan has one of the worst income gaps of any city–or country–in the world, often separated by just a few blocks. These striking graphics make that inequality apparent in the height of the city’s buildings.

“The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and the beauty in the world,” F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote in the voice of Nick Carraway, Great Gatsby narrator. But as Gatsby himself was well aware, New York is also a city of extreme inequality–and that inequality is growing. As The New Yorker noted in its visualization of New York City income inequality by subway stop earlier this year, the city’s income gap “between the richest twenty per cent and the poorest twenty per cent would be on par with countries like Sierra Leone, Namibia, and Lesotho.”


So what if the skyline was altered to reflect that too-often ignored truth? Prolific artist and web researcher Nickolay Lamm (of has come out with a visualization of what the New York City skyline might look like if the heights of buildings corresponded with net worth. Each centimeter in the map, he writes, corresponds with about a net worth of $100,000–so if your block’s net worth is $120,000, the height on the 3-D map would rise to 1.2 centimeter. Lamm zoomed into block-specific data by using Esri’s 2012 updated demographics, which are based on census information from 2010.

“I was inspired to create this project after standing atop Mt. Washington in my hometown of Pittsburgh and looking at the Pittsburgh skyline,” Lamm says. “I thought to myself, ‘What if you could actually see inequality?’ This relatively even landscape would look much different.”

As we can see from Lamm’s images, net worth surrounding Central Park is the most extreme, with the median of large tracts on the East Side worth well over $288,000. A 2-D screenshot of Lamm’s work also shows some of the city’s wealthiest areas are oases surrounded by net values of $15,000 or less.

One of the flattest views, meanwhile, is from Yankee Stadium in the south Bronx, where median income comes in under $30,000 a year. Another striking image shows Central Park overlooking Harlem, where net worth suddenly drops off after the greenery.

Speaking truth to the city’s “mystery and beauty,” Lamm writes, “The American Dream suggests that if you work hard enough, you can achieve it. However, it’s clear that the landscape in order to achieve that dream is not as even and equal as it appears on the surface.”


About the author

Sydney Brownstone is a Seattle-based former staff writer at Co.Exist. She lives in a Brooklyn apartment with windows that don’t quite open, and covers environment, health, and data.