Greater Greater Washington

Breakfast links: Taxicab opinions


Photo by mikeygibran on Flickr.
Cheh hails for taxi feedback: An online poll lets you share your opinion of DC taxi service with Councilmember Cheh, who has authored a bill to make many improvements to taxis. (DCist)

Bus burns: A Ride On bus caught fire on Tuesday. Over the past 15 months there have been two additional fires on similar Ride On buses, but they were unrelated. (Examiner)

High prices make DC less cool: DC's high prices, caused partially by the Height Act, are keeping starving artists out, claims Matt Yglesias. He also thinks the only thing keeping housing prices down is poor schools. (Slate)

Do this, don't do that: Since October Metro is trying to move away from hand written signs and replacing them with printed signs. But some station managers don't seem to know the new signs exist. (Examiner)

Not gentrification?: With many of the new comers to Anacostia being black is gentrification the right word? In LA, where Latinos are displacing other Latinos, they use the term "gentefication." (WAMU)

Parking to parklet: San Francisco is adding more pedestrian space with dozens of "parklets," which replace street parking spaces with temporary, privately funded seating areas and green space. (SFGate, Tony G)

And...: A new map of all the planned development in Southwest DC. (SWTLQTC) ... A video with all the maps of the NYC subway. (Gizmodo, Redline SOS) ... A round-up of 2011 demographic changes. (DCentric)

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Steven Yates grew up in Indiana before moving to DC in 2002 to attend college at American University. He currently lives in Southwest DC.  

Comments

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I wish this blog would break its love affair with Matt Yglesias. He is so wrong in his assessment.

by Jazzy on Dec 30, 2011 10:26 am • linkreport

@Jazzy

How so? I would love to hear your thoughts.

by Alex B. on Dec 30, 2011 10:33 am • linkreport

I don't know about Matt's previous blogs etc, but the height restriction as the reason we aren't as cool as other cities makes no sense. Are there artists in LA, yes. Do they have anything to do with their glass box skyscraper district? No. Conversly, I don't see cities like Hong Kong cranking out artists becasue of their stalinist looking tower blocks. For that matter, what does the Berlin art scene have to offer? Googling it, I can see they pay for artists to live in the city, typical of European culture that feels like culture does best with official patronage.

Of all the things we could improve about Greater Washington, raising the height of buildings beyond 12 stories seems like a complete waste of time.

by Thayer-D on Dec 30, 2011 10:51 am • linkreport

The height limit isn't a direct cause of high real estate prices in DC. The height limit is more of a symbol for other issues related to over-regulation of residential construction. Rosslyn and Crystal City aren't exactly bastions of artistic production.

One of the things about Berlin is that it's really, really inexpensive, and there are a lot of things to do in lots of different neighborhoods. People come from all over the world to come to Berlin not necessarily to work in a high paying or well-connected job (as they do in DC), but because it's a great city to live in.

by JustMe on Dec 30, 2011 11:02 am • linkreport

I'm glad I hit refresh before posting. My post was nearly identical to Thayer-D including the first sentence. I assumed that article was here for clicks since that topic often opens up a nice debate.

by selxic on Dec 30, 2011 11:03 am • linkreport

the best thing for artists is empty warehouse/ex-factory space for little money/sq foot, the kind built in the 1st half of the 20th c. w/ glass block windows and windows that open letting in light and air, not the windowless kind of the 2nd half of the 20th c. DC just doesn't have much of that in contrast to Chicago, Balitomore, Cleveland, etc.

by Tina on Dec 30, 2011 11:03 am • linkreport

@Thayer

His argument has nothing to do with height, exactly - it's all about density, and the development of more high-value office space in the high-value areas that would then reduce pressure on lower value office and office-like space around the edge of the city's core. That lower value space then becomes a lower cost option for all sorts of creative endeavors - not just 'cool' stuff like arts and music, but entrepreneurial startups, etc.

So, no, it's not about the glass box district - it's about what the cap means to the areas outside of that district.

Either way, the larger point is that DC is constrained in terms of supply and has tremendous demand, causing prices to shoot up. This has some severe consequences, particularly for creative industries of all types. Would you disagree with that?

by Alex B. on Dec 30, 2011 11:03 am • linkreport

It woul dbe nice if people decide to resopnd to arguments, they actualyl read the arguements. Yglesias's arguement is that the height act has restricted supply, which then has driven up rents, which then makes it hard for artists and others to afford DC.

While I support the elimination of the height act, I am not sure if it really is having as great affect of Yglesias claims. Further there is plenty of cheap housing in NE still, it is just not near the metro though it is near buses.

by nathaniel on Dec 30, 2011 11:06 am • linkreport

@Jazzy -- You can't away with just saying he is "so wrong in his assessment."

We don't know what you disagree with. Do you think property values aren't high? Do you think that property values wouldn't skyrocket if the city had less crime and better schools?

Do you think that the Height Act isn't limiting construction of residential units? Do you think the crime level and poor schools are holding down development, instead of the other way around? Do you think the Height Act has nothing to do with DC's lack of hipness? Do you think the city actually has a level of hip? Do you think the city wasn't hipper in the mid-late '80s (when I first got here)?

What is it that you think is wrong with Yglesias' assessment? And, if you come back and just say "all of it" or "the whole thing", I'm going to find out where you live and wake you up at 3 a.m. every morning.

by Fischy (Ed F.) on Dec 30, 2011 11:06 am • linkreport

From the "gentefication" link: gentefication is “the process of upwardly mobile Latinos, typically second-generation and beyond, investing in and returning to the old neighborhood.”

A lot of us (in my case, white) moving to cities and buying homes have ourselves had parents and grandparents that lived and grew up in those cities before they themselves moved out to the suburbs.

by JustMe on Dec 30, 2011 11:08 am • linkreport

Alex,
I would agree that the lack of cheap housing does restrict start ups and artists. I just don't think there's a shortage. When I moved to Logan Circle twelve years ago, it's becasue it was cheap and convenient. I conldn't do that today, but I could further north or east. They have incredibly dense neighborhoods in Manhattan, to the artists just moved to Brooklyn.

If you could make a buck, you'd build more, it's as simple as that. I also wish there where less regulations towards building and more density, but nothing's stopping anyone from densifying many a DC neighborhood. Remember, this greed is what actually has produced a lot of America's lower income housing. Harlem was a product of the 1880-1890's building boom. When the crash came, it comverted to lower income housing, but if you've seen it, you'd know it was build for a high income bracket.

Just recently, one of the many new condo towers in Silver Spring went to work force houseing becasue there weren't enough young lawyers to fill it up. I'm not saying we should rely solely on the market to give us more affordable housing, but that pushing for destroying our beautiful skyline becasue we aren't as cool Matt would like isn't a strong argument. I went to an art school in Brooklyn in the 1980's and what passes for cool isn't always what it seems. Remember high school?

by Thayer-D on Dec 30, 2011 11:18 am • linkreport

Nathaniel makes a compelling point. Just look at the NYC subway map. Manhattan became a forest of towering building because it could -- because the spread of the subway into Manhattan made it possible for a workforce that lived in lower-rent areas to get there quickly and cheaply. I might add one element missing from that map is the expansion of commuter rail service from/to Long Island, Westchester, Connecticut and New Jersey -- which made it possible for a large professional class to emerge and live outside the bounds of the city, allowing for the core to fully develop as a commercial center.

Without those elements -- greater coverage of the region by Metro and/or commuter rail and more coverage in the central core, there isn't that much demand in the city. Scarcity might drive prices up in the coveted neighborhoods, but if the demand was there, construction would still be happening.

by Fischy (Ed F.) on Dec 30, 2011 11:19 am • linkreport

One other factor holding down hipness -- not just that Metro doesn't go everywhere, making it hard for artists to live in a lot of areas, but the fact that Metro shuts down too early. It's hard to be hip, vibrant and young, if you have to leave to go home by 11:30. But, it's a chicken/egg problem -- since there's not enough demand now, Metro doesn't provide better, more convenient service. On the other hand, if they did, the culture might change with it.

by Fischy (Ed F.) on Dec 30, 2011 11:24 am • linkreport

If the Height Act was causing prices to be artificially high, wouldn't you expect a substantial drop in prices when you cross the river into Rosslyn or Crystal City? Actually, I'd say prices in Rosslyn are higher than Foggy Bottom.

Stats from Trulia for the latest quarter:

Average price per square foot for homes in 22209 was $494 in the most recent quarter,

Average price per square foot for homes in 20036 was $474 in the most recent quarter,

by Falls Church on Dec 30, 2011 11:27 am • linkreport

@Thayer

That doesn't really refute Yglesias' point, however.

Granted, his point is incomplete - but it's also put forth in a three paragraph blog post, and I wouldn't expect a full documentation of all of the potential challenges to DC's housing and office supply responding to demand or providing cheap, affordable space. Likewise, the focus on what makes a city 'cool' is similarly misplaced, but that's also because it's a short blog post. Ryan Avent's The Gated City discusses this issue at length, and with regards to economic productivity, not 'coolness.'

I do think there's a direct correlation between office space in high rises downtown and the availability of cheaper, flexible, ex-light industrial space on the fringe of downtown - even in a city that didn't have a great deal of industry like DC.

by Alex B. on Dec 30, 2011 11:28 am • linkreport

@Falls Church

The height limit is brought up because it's the most visible restriction on development.

Arlington is also restricted, but in more conventional ways (i.e. via zoning). Rosslyn's max density for office space is a FAR of 10, which is less than the max FAR in DC. Crystal City (and Rosslyn, to a lesser extent) also does indeed have a height limit imposed on them by the FAA due to approaching planes into DCA.

by Alex B. on Dec 30, 2011 11:33 am • linkreport

One other factor holding down hipness -- not just that Metro doesn't go everywhere, making it hard for artists to live in a lot of areas, but the fact that Metro shuts down too early.

Hip artists don't ride metro. They bike from Bloomingdale.

What's holding down DC's hipness quotient is not the lack of artists but THEIR hipness. DC has the second greatest number of theater seats (NYC is #1) yet there isn't that much cutting edge, hip, arty theater going on. So, frankly, I think we need to take up this issue with the artists themselves and ask them to start carrying their weight in the hipness department.

by Falls Church on Dec 30, 2011 11:34 am • linkreport

@Alex B.

Given Virginia's pro-development outlook, why have they restricted FAR's in places like Rosslyn to 10? If Yglesias is correct, then there's sufficient market demand to raise FARs and reap the rewards of additional development.

by Falls Church on Dec 30, 2011 11:41 am • linkreport

Matt's article is ridiculous. If he really wanted to talk density, he should be arguing that we subdivide DC's housing stock in a manner similar to NYC, but that's simply not happening as much. Paris has similar height restrictions but handles more than 2m people at over 45,000 people/square mile, but I see no one trying to get rid of those restrictions; when they broke it with Tour Montparnasse, Parisians flipped.

by Phil on Dec 30, 2011 11:43 am • linkreport

Do you think property values aren't high?
* Well, for the metro area as a whole. But there are many parts of the District (even within a mile of a metro) where they aren't super high...lots of NE and SE, and the part of SW on the SE side of the Potomac.

Do you think that property values wouldn't skyrocket if the city had less crime and better schools?
* I think they'd go up. But there also seem to be lots of people willing to pay high prices for areas with crime and bad schools now, and if the govt. and contractors keep hiring, there will be more people similarly willing/able. Also, if the property values did skyrocket, wouldn't that make it harder for artists to come in? So is that what Yglesias really wants?

Do you think that the Height Act isn't limiting construction of residential units?
* I think it might have something to do with it--the developers working on big buildings in Clarendon might do similar things in DC. But there are a lot of other things about DC vs. VA that make developers want to build in Arlington: proximity to the defense industry, different government, schools, taxes, etc. The height act wouldn't change those. Also, I bet the Height Act is limiting hotels, offices, and other commercial building more than it's affecting residential development.

Do you think the crime level and poor schools are holding down development, instead of the other way around?
* Development isn't making the schools worse, that's true. It might be triggering some crime (more rich people on the streets=more fertile targets for muggers) but it probably displaces as much as it causes. But that's not my main disagreement with the Yglesias piece.

Do you think the Height Act has nothing to do with DC's lack of hipness?
* There are lot of negatives in this question. To reword, I don't think DC would get hipper if the Height Act were repealed. I think we'd get a lot of ugly new buildings replacing some cool old ones. With the Height Act in place, you may as well do adaptive reuse because you can't build something bigger. Places with a lot of development (Arlington, the Navy Yard, etc.) aren't exactly bastions of hipness.

Do you think the city actually has a level of hip?
* Yes. Maybe a low level, but not as low as most places in the US.

Do you think the city wasn't hipper in the mid-late '80s (when I first got here)?
* I don't know. But I'd rather be un-hip than shot. I don't like when people glamorize crime, whether that be Yglesias saying it makes a place "hipper" or crews celebrating ghetto life.

by sb on Dec 30, 2011 11:44 am • linkreport

Falls Church nails it. D.C. is an earnest city the way very few other cities in the Western World are these days.

by Kolohe on Dec 30, 2011 11:45 am • linkreport

@Jazzy "I wish this blog would break its love affair with Matt Yglesias. He is so wrong in his assessment."

+1

His assertions are just that ... unsubstantiated assertions. Yes, claims many cause and effect relationships but doesn't really justify them in any way other than 'I think that thing causes this thing, so you should too'.

One point in case is that ascertion that the Height Act makes DC less affordable than Berlin. First off, Berlin is cheap and affordable because for many years it was completely isolated from where the then West Germany was rebuilding the German economy. Even today, it's still not where people with money want to be ... hence why there's no competition. A good parallel here would be Philadelphia which once upon a time was 'the place to be' along the east coast if one wasn't in NYC or Boston. It isn't so anymore ... hence the lower prices. And, I don't know for sure that Berlin has a height limit in place, but given that the Europeans started the whole concept of historic zones AND in Germany entire cities get that designation (vs. our piecemeal approach in DC where it's by neighborhood), my guess is that you can't build up high in Berlin either ... unless you're out in one of its Rosslyn or Silver Spring equivalents ...

by Lance on Dec 30, 2011 11:58 am • linkreport

I read Matt's article and it doesn't really seem complete or if so, just not a good article, or maybe I don't fully understand how the term "artist" is being defined in his article nor in the comments here.

Are we talking musicians, artists and poets? If so, I would argue that DC has plenty of attractive opportunities and I'm not sure how removing the height restriction really answers any concerns about artist mobility.

Now that I think about it, maybe I'm lost as to what it is that artists can't do because of the height and other restrictions. Is the argument that they can't live here because it's too expensive and taller buildings would make for more attractive living options?

by HogWash on Dec 30, 2011 12:01 pm • linkreport

As someone who has been here about 4 times longer than Yglesias I can say with certainty that height restrictions have nothing to do with the District's so called lack of starving artists. There are quite a few low density commercial districts in town that could absorb significant amounts of density if the market called for it.

I can say with certainity that having the worst ranked public education in America plays an enormous role in attracting families to the District. The problem is worsened by the fact that our suburban neighbors no more than 6 miles in any direction have some of the best public school systems in the nation. People like to blame "cost of living" for young professional families opting out of the District, but it costs the same, if not more for them to live in Arlington/Alexandria. It's the schools...

Economic development, income gains, poverty decreases these are all positive things. The District wallowed in a fiscal, economic and demographic morass for 30 years. She was way passed due for some economic luv.

And for the record...there is tons of affordable housing stock in DC. Upper NW and NE and SE is filled with lower priced housing.

by freely on Dec 30, 2011 12:01 pm • linkreport

Setting aside the issue of gentrification for a moment (if that's possible) the factor that drives up price more than any other in DC is crime. There's a lot of affordable housing in the city, it's just in crime-ravaged areas. These also tend to be relatively isolated from the rest of the city. And the housing stock is pretty ugly; certainly "unhip".

http://www.zillow.com/homedetails/2268-Mount-View-Pl-SE-Washington-DC-20020/525465_zpid/

by oboe on Dec 30, 2011 12:03 pm • linkreport

Do you think the city wasn't hipper in the mid-late '80s (when I first got here)?

Naturally. Everything was hipper and cooler when I was young...!

(Remember when Adams Morgan was the place to go for DC-style hiphop metal punk?) Bad Brains y'all.

by ex-hipster on Dec 30, 2011 12:07 pm • linkreport

There's a lot of generalizing in this thread, probably because it's in response to a Matt Yglesias post, and I'm going to be pretty guilty of it in a few seconds.

There are a lot of factors that Berlin has that DC does not, and not all of them are good. Berlin's population is crashing as people leave the East, it has huge expanses of unused factory space, generous government patronage, and preexisting cultural preeminence. DC does not have these factors.

A few observations, though:

If you could make a buck, you'd build more, it's as simple as that. I also wish there where less regulations towards building and more density, but nothing's stopping anyone from densifying many a DC neighborhood.

The zoning in DC is quite tight in many areas of DC and Maryland, due to "Shrink-wrap" zoning policies in the 1980s. More so than the height limit, this restricts residential development that drives up housing costs. I think the height limit can be tied to the expansion and high prices of downtown, where the CR zoning is available, but I can't prove the effects elsewhere without data.

Depending on the art, the kind of space seems to be pretty important. This is what the four postwar creative centers in New York, SoHo, WIlliamsburg, Red Hook, and the South Bronx, have all had lots of densely-packed cheap loft space. The new developments in DC are often swallowing up established creative spaces and industrial buildings alike. Witness the DCentric article.

by Neil Flanagan on Dec 30, 2011 12:08 pm • linkreport

What does SF, LA and NY have that DC doesn't? A creative based economy. LA has Hollywood and Burbank. NY has fashion, Broadway and Madison ave. SF has the Silicon Valley. DC has? Dulles Corridor, Federal Gov? Biotech? In the end starving artist go where there is a chance to eat.

by RJ on Dec 30, 2011 12:10 pm • linkreport

During the cold war Berlin was surrounded by East Germany, and was heavily subsidized by the NATO military presence. When Germany unified large tracts that were a part of East Germany were added. Ossies are (were?) unfamiliar with the free economy, and their wages reflect that. In short, Berlin has legacy class of relatively unproductive workers, many more than in DC. That is why it is cheaper.

But like Berlin, DC has no shortage of lower-cost housing and industrial (artist-like) spaces EotR. Artist loft spaces in other cities have always been in lower-rent, more dodgy neighborhoods. Yeglasias reads like he wants these places in the nice neighborhoods, but that is not realistic. He should get across the river -- that is where it is "cool".

But this begs the question, why do we need or want "cool"? -- it is foolish youthful impulse. The people that are cool don't need any more.

by goldfish on Dec 30, 2011 12:11 pm • linkreport

On thinking about it, I get the sense that a lot of DC's recent hipness is associated with consumption, rather than creation of music and art. At least, this is what people talk about. All of these gastropubs and cool clubs are great, but they're not studios, and they're really not creating anything lasting or challenging anyone.

Maybe the Hip-Hop scene is still strong after Wale bombed, but I don't know about that. DC's theater scene is strong, with the Studio and the Shakespeare, but I think that only the Wooly Mammoth actively develops new plays.

by Neil Flanagan on Dec 30, 2011 12:18 pm • linkreport

In the end starving artist go where there is a chance to eat.
Indeed. Also, this sterotype of the starving artist is as annoying as the romanticizing of crime, as someone else commented upon.

Artists who are well-fed and have good mental health are much more creative and productive than crazy starving ones.

But they do need cheap ex-factory space which DC just doesn't have much of, comparatively.

by Tina on Dec 30, 2011 12:18 pm • linkreport

When I hear people who aren't originally from DC talk about DC, whether it's my friends/classmates/coworkers or Matt Yglesias, they seem to refer to the gentrified inner core, bounded by Capitol Hill, Dupont Circle, The Mall and maybe Columbia Heights. And all assumptions - about politics, racial/demographic makeup, style of dress, culture, personalities, etc. - seem to describe things in that space alone.

So, yeah, if you look at just that area, DC is expensive and possibly quite boring. But when you look at the whole city, or even the whole region you'll find the middle- and working-class neighborhoods and artists and punks and warehouse studios and so on. The bigger issue is access: we only have so many neighborhoods within a short commute of downtown or other activity centers, so naturally they're expensive. So let's find ways to bring more areas into the fold with better transport options.

I'm not bothered if my artist friends end up living in Hyattsville as long as they can still contribute to the city and the region. DC doesn't have to look like Greenwich Village. Hell, the Village stopped looking like the Village a long time ago.

by dan reed! on Dec 30, 2011 12:27 pm • linkreport

@dan reed, +1

by Tina on Dec 30, 2011 12:30 pm • linkreport

There's a lot of affordable housing in the city, it's just in crime-ravaged areas.

By crime-ravaged, you mean like Columbia Heights? Of course, not...

Just want to dispel the notion that there's a huge difference in crime between the gentrified areas and the ones that aren't. Based on crime stats, Columbia Heights has a lot more crime than a historically "crime-ridden" place like Trinidad NE. Now, there are confounding factors like more population in Columbia Heights but still, there's not as big of a difference in crime as you might think.

by Falls Church on Dec 30, 2011 12:44 pm • linkreport

@dan reed -- Exactly right: like many others, Matt is looking not only for "semi-employed artist[s] or guitar player[s]", but ones that look and think just like him, and accessible without requiring him to venture somewhere unfamiliar.

by Arl Fan on Dec 30, 2011 12:45 pm • linkreport

By crime-ravaged, you mean like Columbia Heights? Of course, not...

Not sure I follow you. Columbia Heights housing is inexpensive?

by oboe on Dec 30, 2011 12:50 pm • linkreport

@Falls Church:

Ah, okay. I think I understand the disconnect: because certain areas see depressed property values due to crime doesn't mean that every neighborhood with crime is going to have the same property values.

I'd argue that Columbia Heights would have even higher property values if it weren't for the crime. And to that a price premium that comes from speculation: most people who bought over the last five years did so with the assumption that, while crime is an issue, it would be falling quickly as the neighborhood gentrified. Same dynamic at work in Trinidad. But Columbia Heights is still cheaper than Mt Pleasant, which is cheaper than Dupont. And Rosedale is cheaper than Trinidad which is cheaper than Capitol Hill, even though they're all roughly equally connected to H Street and the greater city.

(And while raw crime numbers are helpful, I suppose it's the perception of crime that drives suppresses prices as well.)

by oboe on Dec 30, 2011 1:03 pm • linkreport

Not sure I follow you. Columbia Heights housing is inexpensive?

I think my main point (which may have been lost) is that there is affordable housing in places that are not "crime ravaged". Trinidad or Rosedale are fairly affordable and not crime-ravaged, despite their reputations. If you want even more affordable, you could go to Brentwood which is still not crime-ravaged if you don't think a place like Columbia Heights is crime-ravaged.

by Falls Church on Dec 30, 2011 1:13 pm • linkreport

@Falls Church

Those places are inexpensive relative to DC prices, but they're still quite expensive in the grand scheme of things. And that's problematic.

by Alex B. on Dec 30, 2011 1:14 pm • linkreport

It'd be nice to call a moratorium on attributing anything to the height limit for awhile--it might stimulate some creative thinking. It's not difficult to find places that are "hip" and expensive without it. removing the height limit as panacea tends to neglect how few tall buildings there are outside of the central core or a few outer nodes in most metros DC's size or larger.

by Rich on Dec 30, 2011 1:17 pm • linkreport

Trinidad or Rosedale are fairly affordable and not crime-ravaged, despite their reputations. If you want even more affordable, you could go to Brentwood which is still not crime-ravaged if you don't think a place like Columbia Heights is crime-ravaged.

Sure, but I think that ignores the fact that all real estate transactions in the "gentrification zone" have an element of speculation involved. Regardless of current crime rates, buyers are betting on future rates as well.

by oboe on Dec 30, 2011 1:29 pm • linkreport

Meanwhile, didn't DC post the largest (%-wise) population increase of any state?
http://washingtonexaminer.com/blogs/capital-land/2011/12/dc-leads-nation-biggest-population-swell/2023306

So something must be right if everyone is moving in.

by Justin on Dec 30, 2011 2:32 pm • linkreport

Good discussion on a recent Kojo show with Harriet Tregoning. First, she points out that the reason there's much less density now than there used to be (talking long-term: 1960s) is that upwards of 40% of all DC households consist of one person, and that certainly was not the case many years ago. There was a caller who stated that it's transit-oriented development if his mother can afford to live there, and it's transit-oriented displacement if she cannot.

by Jazzy on Dec 31, 2011 7:59 am • linkreport

I'm always hearing how DC is so prohibitively expensive but I personally know people renting 1 BR apartments in NE and SE for less than 700 a month. To afford that you just need a full time job making at least $12 an hour. That's for a whole apartment all to yourself in this supposedly impossible to afford city.

Also, if you like Berlin or NYC so damn much then MOVE THERE! We are keeping the height limit.

by Doug on Dec 31, 2011 11:17 am • linkreport

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