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Up, Up and Away

I really like Ed Glaeser's article on Skyscrapers in this month's Atlantic. It's interesting because it offers a historical perspective on very tall buildings that I was mostly unfamiliar with. Glaeser also does a very good job of explaining why skyscrapers are (theoretically) beneficial to cities and the people who live in them.

(from Geff Rossi on Flickr)

Unfortunately, I think the article leaves a lot of questions unanswered. Glaeser talks a lot about New York City, and how restrictions on new buildings result in ridiculously high rents. His counter-example in Chicago, which he contends is much less restrictive when it comes to new building and, as a result, has much lower commercial and residential rents.

But no discussion of building restrictions would be complete without a look at the cities that have outright height limits. Glaeser describes two - Paris and Mumbai. Aside from a single mention of Crystal City, Virginia, there's no other reference to Washington, DC - the largest and most important American city with strict height restrictions.

New York and DC share some important similarities - they're both wildly expensive places to rent a home or an office or open a retail business. These two cities also look very different - DC has a flat skyline with short buildings, and Manhattan is an island of skyscrapers. Glaeser would say that both would benefit from more building, because what matters is that's less supply than demand in both places, even if New York already has lots of tall buildings.

Still, it's an uphill battle to convince preservationists in DC that tall buildings would work, when 200 miles to the north we have a city with the tallest buildings and the highest rents. Glaeser's explanation for why it is this way is a good start, I hope he take take the analysis to the next level and really try to show why DC specifically would benefit from more skyscrapers.


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