Building Upward DOB Setting New Look for New York City

 New York City’s Department of Buildings wields great influence over how structures in the city  are built and maintained, presiding over everything from building inspections  to permits, building codes and materials. While that area of governance might  seem rather pedestrian, a resident doesn’t need to look any further than the city’s sidewalks to get some measure of the impact that DOB is having on the overall  aesthetic—and safety—of New York City.  

 Humble Start

 Laws to govern buildings had their start when New York City was still the Dutch  colony of New Amsterdam. In 1625, the Dutch West India Company established  rules for the types and locations of houses that could be built by the early  colonists, the DOB explains on its website. This pioneering attempt at meeting  public safety and sanitation needs evolved into one of the most comprehensive  building and zoning codes in the country. By 1674, extensive laws governing  construction, fire prevention and sanitation were in place. In 1860, after a  tenement fire took 20 lives, New York City's building laws were extensively  revised and strengthened. At that time, the position of "Superintendent of  Buildings" was created within the Fire Department to enforce the new structural  safety laws. An independent "Buildings Department" in Manhattan was later  founded in 1892. Each borough president's office had an autonomous  Superintendent of Buildings until 1936, when a citywide Department of Buildings  was created. Thus the modern DOB was born.  

 Since that time, the DOB has gone through many transformations resulting from  new laws enacted to give it more muscle and to protect the populace. The first  building code in 1898 had a measurable effect on the DOB’s ability to enforce standards. Later, building code revisions mandated in 1938,  1968 and 2005 strengthened that departmental authority. The department’s mission is to ensure the safe and lawful use of buildings and properties by  enforcing the building code and zoning requirements.  

 According to DOB spokesperson Ryan FitzGibbon, “We oversee the safe and lawful use of 75,000-plus buildings and construction sites in New York City’s five boroughs.”  

 How They Help

 As the DOB has evolved and developed, its administrators have worked hard to  make the department more transparent in its operations. The idea is to be a  more responsive government entity that is helpful to its constituents, DOB  leaders say. Such a businesslike approach is expected of the DOB because of its  location and size. The organization now has 1,100 employees, including 350  inspectors.  

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