Urban folklore that there are few large skyscrapers between Downtown and Midtown Manhattan because of New York’s geology: the bedrock in that part of town, the story goes, cannot support tall buildings. Not so.
According to Building the Skyline: The Birth and Growth of Manhattan’s Skyscrapers.By Jason Barr (via Economist)
A better explanation is New York’s economic history. Mr Barr argues that the area between Downtown and Midtown historically had low land values. In the 18th century the rich lived in Downtown areas close to the port and the seat of government. The poor lived just outside. The wealthy reacted to the gradual introduction of public transport in the 1820s and 1830s by moving far out, eventually as far as Midtown, a less-developed area which could be built to their tastes. The in-between zones thus left behind were undesirable, and few people thought it profitable to build skyscrapers there. The spatial economics of the 19th century continues to shape Manhattan’s skyline today.-RW