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Tall Buildings: A Counterpoint

February 22, 2011

Michael Mehaffy of New Urban Network has a counterpoint to the Atlantic article by Ed (“Triumph of the City”) Glaeser.  And he references Vancouver frequently.

Often cities like New York and Vancouver are cited as stellar examples of dense ecologically superior cities with tall buildings. It’s usually assumed that it’s the tall buildings in these cities that give them the edge.  (Indeed, Glaeser himself makes this conflation.)

These cities are indeed very positive when it comes to carbon and other ecological metrics. But it’s often overlooked that tall buildings are only a fraction of all structures in these places, with the bulk of neighborhoods consisting of rowhouses, low-rise apartment buildings, and other much lower structures. They get their low-carbon advantages not from density per se, but from an optimum distribution of daily amenities, walkability and access to transit, and other efficiencies of urban form.

Uh, okay … and the point is?    I’m confounded why this issue is always either/or – as though highrises and lowrises cannot co-exist, why one must be chosen as preferable to the other. 

Full article by Mehaffy here.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Tessa permalink
    February 22, 2011 9:00 pm

    I don’t think the author was making the argument that high-rises and low-rises can’t co-exist, but rather I think he was saying there are advantages and disadvantages to building towers, and specifically that lower-rise density is more effective at achieving density goals as well as social benefits. You did choose to quote a particularly jumbled set of paragraphs, but the rest of the article I found better. And the thing I liked about this one is that it includes the long list of studies on the issue, which I hope to read further through.

  2. February 23, 2011 5:01 pm

    I think that Mehaffy is making the point because Glaeser has conflated density with height.
    That creates several problems such as proposing changes in zoning codes which produces a counter-example.

    In any case, density is a byprouct of creating interesting places where eople want to be. You shouldn’t start with density but with making places desirable. Then you end up with density.

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