Greater Greater Washington

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9 suggestions to change the height limit

Congress is considering whether or not to change DC's height limit. Here are 9 suggestions that will help the city get the most benefit out of changing (but not eliminating) its height regulations.


Paris' La Defense skyline. Photo by KJ Vogelius on flickr.

Much of the debate about the height limit has settled into two opposing camps, those who want taller buildings, and those opposed to any change. But it doesn't need to be so black and white.

Regulations can change in practical and beneficial ways, without destroying Washington's unique layout. If Congress repeals or changes the DC Height Act, the District will be free to regulate height in much more flexible ways.

That in mind, here are some suggestions that Congress and the DC Council should consider as they move forward.

1. Don't eliminate, calibrate

Even though eliminating all height limits completely isn't anyone's proposal and has never been seriously on the table, it's worth saying up front just to be clear. There are good reasons to regulate height, but our existing laws are not necessarily the ideal set. We can make them more ideal with some fine tuning.

2. Target development where we want it

Many assume raising the height limit would result in taller buildings everywhere, or all over downtown, but that need not be the case. It would be smarter to pick specific areas where we want to encourage more development, and only increase the limit there.

The city can raise the limit only on blocks with a Metro station entrance, for example, or only within 1/8 mile of Metro stations with low existing ridership, or only near Farragut Square, or only in Anacostia. Whatever.

No doubt where to allow them would be a contentious question, but the city already has many regulations encouraging or discouraging development in certain areas. There's no reason the height limit can't be used in the same way. We can be selective.

3. Grant a residential bonus for downtown

Downtown DC has no trouble attracting development, but office is usually more profitable than residential, so downtown is often packed during work hours but pretty empty in the evenings. More residential would help downtown stay active on evenings and weekends, not to mention reduce the capacity stress on our transportation network by allowing more people to live close to their work.

But under current rules, developers often can't justify using floor space under the height limit for residential when office is more lucrative. If they got a bonus for residential, allowing them to build taller only if some or all of the added height were used for apartments, that would benefit everyone.

4. More offices can go downtown, but also other places

We want a lot of office buildings downtown because that's where our regional transportation system converges. But we also want office buildings outside downtown so residential areas don't empty out during work hours, and to encourage a healthy economy throughout the city.

Uptown nodes like Bethesda and Clarendon are good for the region and would be good for the city, and would happen in DC if we allowed them to. So while it may be desirable to allow taller buildings in some parts of downtown sometimes, it's also desirable to encourage office development elsewhere as an anchor for uptown commercial districts.

5. Be inclusive of affordable housing

Height limit opponents say taller buildings will make DC more affordable, because it will increase the supply of housing, thus helping to address rising demand. Supporters of keeping it say tall buildings will make DC more expensive, because new development is almost always expensive. They're both right, but those points aren't mutually exclusive.

New buildings are indeed almost always expensive, because it costs a lot to build a skyscraper, and developers need to turn a profit within a few years.

But new buildings eventually become old ones, and this isn't a short-term decision. Buildings that are expensive at first often become the next generation's affordable housing. Part of the reason DC has an affordable housing problem now is that we didn't build enough new buildings a generation ago. If we don't build enough new units now, the next generation will be out of luck too.

In the mean time, we can solve the short-term affordability problem with inclusive zoning; in exchange for allowing taller buildings, the city should require some of their units to be affordable. Win-win.

6. Require good architecture

Some who want to change the height limit say regulations hurt DC's architecture, resulting in boring-looking buildings. Meanwhile, many others hate tall buildings because so many skyscrapers are ugly. Both arguments are equally bad, because the world is full of both great and ugly buildings of every height.

But there's no denying that tall buildings stand out, and thus become landmarks whether beautiful or ugly. To ensure we get the former rather than the latter, DC (or even NCPC) could require aesthetic review & approval for the design of any building above a certain height.

That sounds cumbersome, but it's standard practice in many cities, and DC already does it in some neighborhoods.

A city the size of DC wouldn't want to insist on aesthetic review for every building, but there's no good reason DC can't do it for tall ones.

Of course the devil is in the details. To use this sort of oversight, DC would have to establish design guidelines that tell architects what the city will approve or deny. That could be contentious, and might not be the same everywhere in the city.

7. Preserve historic facades and encourage entrances

Frequent, unique-looking entrances are incredibly important for quality walkable urbanism. One problem with tall buildings is many are so wide that they're boring to walk next to at the ground level. The minimalist facades of modern architecture compound the problem.

This is why the urbanism in Georgetown is better than Rosslyn. It's not that Rosslyn has buildings that are too tall, it's that Rosslyn's buildings are too wide, and too bare at the ground level.

While it's not practical for tall buildings to change completely every 25' the way rowhouses in Georgetown do, their ground floors can be designed to look and function as smaller buildings, and historic buildings can be integrated into larger developments above.

This may not strictly be a height limit issue, but it's a good way to ensure that taller buildings improve the streetscape. It can be accomplished using the design guidelines and architectural review process outlined above.

8. Outlaw surface parking lots

Surface parking lots are the bane of walkable urbanism, but they're common in almost every skyscraper-heavy downtown in America, because one large building can sap up years worth of demand, leaving developers of other properties waiting in limbo for reason to build.

Many developers in downtowns around the US opt to leave land nearly empty rather than fill it with short buildings, on the chance that they may strike it big with the next big once-a-generation mega skyscraper. Surface parking lots provide a convenient way to use that land in the mean time.

This is a big problem, and DC is not immune. In 2008 the developer of what's now the shiny office building on the northwest corner of Connecticut Avenue and K Street wanted to use that land as a parking lot.

Outlawing surface parking lots in areas where tall buildings are permitted would go a long way towards ensuring downtown DC never looks anything like this.

9. Protect the iconic monuments

Development economics are important, but they're not the only thing. The most valuable land in DC is probably the White House Ellipse, but we're not going to put skyscrapers there. DC's skyline view of the Capitol and Washington Monument is one of the world's most iconic, and should of course be preserved.

But taller buildings in Farragut Square or Brookland or Anacostia wouldn't impede that view any more than they do in Rosslyn, and La Defense did not destroy Paris.

We can, and should, allow taller buildings where they're most appropriate, while protecting the views that define our city.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Dan Malouff is a professional transportation planner for the Arlington County Department of Transportation. He has a degree in Urban Planning from the University of Colorado, and lives a car-free lifestyle in Northwest Washington. His posts are his own opinions and do not represent the views of his employer in any way. He runs the blog BeyondDC and also contributes to the Washington Post Local Opinions blog. 

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Allow higher density at Metro Center and other major Metrorail station hubs. Question, would urban campuses like GW's Foggy Bottom campus be allowed higher density? It is in the central city and served by Metro.

by LoyalColonial on Oct 30, 2013 1:51 pm • linkreport

Either way, the decision ought to be up to the residents of the District, not Congress. As a result, everyone who wants home rule ought to support the current proposal and then worry about whether height limits would change for another day. It is ironic that many former autonomy advocates seem to be ok with Federal jurisdiction over this single issue.

by Andrew on Oct 30, 2013 1:59 pm • linkreport

By and large I think we're already doing 1-5 in other ways. Those things are usually already a part of the things that have and are being deveoped. I like 6 but I think 7-9 are the most transformative (especially 7, make the street nice, at any height). I can't imagine a scenario where monuments wouldn't be a concern even if we had or were considering super-talls.

by drumz on Oct 30, 2013 2:12 pm • linkreport

That photo of Houston made me shudder. Also not so sure everyone agrees on La Defense, but I've been to Paris and it does not even register from a street perspectibe in the historic core area.

by JDC Esq on Oct 30, 2013 2:18 pm • linkreport

If we're merely talking about preserving the present form of the L'Enfant City, let's open up discussion on developing areas EOTR. With PEPCO trying to retire the Benning Road power station in the coming years, that site would be an ideal place to create "La Defense West" district right here in DC that could skirt height regulations.

by John Marzabadi on Oct 30, 2013 2:33 pm • linkreport

Sounds good to me!

by Dizzy on Oct 30, 2013 2:36 pm • linkreport

Good list. I think Fort Totten, Friendship Heights and RFK are good examples of places that could pick up some extra height and put in larger office districts on top of transit.

by BTA on Oct 30, 2013 3:16 pm • linkreport

Just to briefly expound on the argument mentioned in #6 that the height limit encourages bad architecture: Development land in DC typically trades on the basis of $ per potential building square foot. The potential building SF is determined by the FAR (Floor Area Ratio) allowed in each zone, but there are also limits on building height, site coverage, setbacks, etc. The result of combining the FAR limit with the height limit in downtown areas is that in order to use all of the available buildable square feet you're entitled to under zoning, you very often have to build a giant box.
For example: if the FAR limit is 10.0, and the height limit is 120 feet, then you can build 10 times as many building SF as you have land SF. At about 12 feet per story, you're limited to 10 stories. Therefore, to use all of the available FAR square footage you build 10 stories tall on the entire lot, and avoid interior embellishments like atriums (atria?) that eat into your rentable square footage.
In practice, there's a bit of slippage because not all building areas count against the FAR limit, but it's a very real constraint that imposes major limitations on how buildings get designed. The most sought-after architects in DC aren't necessarily the ones cranking out memorable designs, but the ones who know the zoning codes inside and out and can maximize your rentable square footage yield.

by Sherwood on Oct 30, 2013 3:20 pm • linkreport

The DC government should auction the right to build taller (150 - 180 feet) buildings on K Street and use this revenue to fund the Union Station - Georgetown streetcar. This would provide revenue for this and it would provide more density along the route.

Friendship Heights is a prime location for taller buildings. It is far enough from the L'Enfant core to have absolutely zero impact on views and there are already 15-20 floor buildings on the Maryland side of this neighborhood. There is a large amount of land (WMATA bus garage, Lord & Taylor site, etc, parking garage next to TJ Maxx) that could be developed into 15-20 story buildings here, right next to a metro station and several bus routes.

by 202_cyclist on Oct 30, 2013 3:22 pm • linkreport

Focusing on EOTR will never fly for political reasons. If they do pick a few key areas to add height as I would want them to, they will need to be spread over the city.

by BTA on Oct 30, 2013 3:27 pm • linkreport

the box like dimensions rule out the entire school of architecture associated with post modernism, that follows the modernist disdain for ornament, but that attempts to add interest, play, experiment with unusual, provocative, building shapes.

For people who despise that school of architecture, they would need some assurance that Gehry style post modernism is banned.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Oct 30, 2013 3:33 pm • linkreport

Union station to Georgetown streetcar is already funded in the 6 year budget.

by h st ll on Oct 30, 2013 3:36 pm • linkreport

@202_cyclist

I agree that Friendship Heights is a great location for taller buildings since its right on top of the Metro, is far from the monuments and Capitol, and land is very valuable.

At the same time though, the area is entirely boxed in by residential neighborhoods and is mostly built out at the center so development opportunities are pretty limited. The land the Metrobus garage is on and the unused parking lot behind Mazza Gallerie are virtually begging for redevelopment however.

On the Maryland side, the Geico HQ campus (despite being probably the most pristine example of Mad Men-era architecture in the DC area) is looong overdue for redevelopment. Same goes for the ugly parking lots flanking the huge Saks Fifth Ave on the east side of Wisconsin.

by King Terrapin on Oct 30, 2013 3:43 pm • linkreport

I could be wrong, but it is my understanding that surface parking (8) is not allowed by-right anywhere in the District, but only as a special exception from the Board of Zoning Adjustment.

by Christine on Oct 30, 2013 3:46 pm • linkreport

We don't need to change the height limits in DC proper. We already have La Defense, this is Rosslyn for DC. You can look up from the mall and see it right across the river. I do agree with you though that we get rid of surface lots.

by carrie on Oct 30, 2013 3:48 pm • linkreport

It's unclear how much more height would benefit DC though. It's great for Arlington and Virginia but one of the reasons DC wants to fix the height limit is to capture some of that value. That can't be done when the value of taller buildings is being realized in Virginia.

by drumz on Oct 30, 2013 3:52 pm • linkreport

@carrie:
"We don't need to change the height limits in DC proper. We already have La Defense, this is Rosslyn for DC. You can look up from the mall and see it right across the river."

In a few decades when DC is built out, Virginia and Maryland will get our property tax revenues if we can't build taller here in the District.

by 202_cyclist on Oct 30, 2013 4:00 pm • linkreport

I agree with the idea of auctioning. Developers should offer some combination of $$ (dedicated to the seperate Blue line) and housing in otherwise office dominated locations (with a larger bonus for a desirable mix of market rate, work force, and affordable units). This will A. Enable the district to capture most of the value and B. Will (assuming a limit on the total amount of bonus height available) lead it to being used only at select parcels, mostly those not already built out to the current limit.

Big question - could you integrate an auction process with a design review process?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Oct 30, 2013 4:02 pm • linkreport

I don't accept the premise that using odd shapes is the only way to make a building interesting. The only problem is that to get a wonderful building under such constraints you require architects to step outside their dogmatic modernist comfort zones. But I don't have a problem with that, especially since every architect says they want to do exactly that.

It's true that asking architects to be more creative means you're making it harder on them, but there are way too many ugly tall buildings in the world for that to fly as an excuse for DC's architecture. If more height were all architects needed, Rosslyn would be a wonderland.

Meanwhile, existing penthouse allowances already permit some roof variation, and we do have plenty of examples of creative contemporary buildings in central DC.

We can and should make things easier, and do better, but I think on this topic the height limit is merely a convenient excuse.

That said, the NIMBY argument that tall buildings are ugly is just as wrong. But nobody is debating that here.

by BeyondDC on Oct 30, 2013 4:03 pm • linkreport

If DC is not going to allow extra height downtown (huge mistake, IMO) and only allow it in places like Benning Rd, than from the larger regional POV there's not a huge benefit (if any) to that, over letting more activity move to Rosslyn and Crystal City. The benefit would only be to DC.

Though at some point Rosslyn and Crystal City will approach build out, but I guess we are a ways from that.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Oct 30, 2013 4:05 pm • linkreport

beyond, I have seen boxy buildings I like, and Gehry buildings I like. But the height limit allows one, and effectively stops the other.

For some thats a bug, for others a feature.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Oct 30, 2013 4:08 pm • linkreport

I don't really care about the property tax revenues, this is about building a capital city. We are just like Paris already. Look at that wikipedia page linked to at the end. The picture of la Defense looks just like DC already looks. The Tour Eiffel (wash monument), Champs de Mars (the mall), the trocadero (ww2 monument), Seine (potomac), Ecole militaire (Capitol), La defense across the seine (rosslyn). The cities are both so french, so european. Paris relegates the big heights to a designated area. So does DC. I guess it just happens to be in VA. Frenchman designed dc afterall. We definitely need more trains though.

by carrie on Oct 30, 2013 4:16 pm • linkreport

Yes we are just like Paris. Exactly like Paris. When I see DC I just think whoa did I go to Paris by accident?

by BTA on Oct 30, 2013 4:23 pm • linkreport

"I don't really care about the property tax revenues,"

"We definitely need more trains though. "

do you not see a contradiction here?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Oct 30, 2013 4:23 pm • linkreport

Using la Defense as an example of building in the historic core is beyond weird.

You do realize la Defense is 7 miles out of Paris's center and Paris limits buildings in it's downtown to 6 stories?

by Tom Coumaris on Oct 30, 2013 4:24 pm • linkreport

I just don't think it's so simple. You just can't ignore the way the municipalities operate just because you see something similar in Paris. From what I've read recently is that "Paris" just expanded its borders significantly in a number of ways that allowed for more regional cooperation, that I'd love to see here but probably isn't in the cards. I don't see a scenario where Va gives DC some of its property tax money just because it has taller buildings.

And Paris isn't without issues. It's an incredibly unaffordable city that had actual riots in 2005 dealing with the high cost of housing.

by drumz on Oct 30, 2013 4:25 pm • linkreport

@carrie:
DC isn't Paris. Paris is far more dense than DC is. DC has detached, single-family, Loudoun Co. homes immediately next to the Tenley metro station.

by 202_cyclist on Oct 30, 2013 4:27 pm • linkreport

Re No. 8. I agree. But how?

by Jim Vaughan on Oct 30, 2013 4:29 pm • linkreport

"On the Maryland side, the Geico HQ campus (despite being probably the most pristine example of Mad Men-era architecture in the DC area) is looong overdue for redevelopment. Same goes for the ugly parking lots flanking the huge Saks Fifth Ave on the east side of Wisconsin."

There's a reason for this. The lower-scale height abutting SF residential neighborhoods was an agreed-upon part of the Friendship Heights, MD development plan. The concept is that the height steps down toward the low-scale SFH streets.

by Jasper2 on Oct 30, 2013 4:29 pm • linkreport

developers need to turn a profit within a few years.

Only in America. Elsewhere buildings are built to last. Hence downtown anywhere with buildings hundreds of years old. The point is that you build durable stuff that lasts. And that way you create real value, and not just quick profit.

Using la Defense as an example of building in the historic core is beyond weird.

You do realize la Defense is 7 miles out of Paris's center and Paris limits buildings in it's downtown to 6 stories?

Exactly, La Defense is Paris' Tysons Corner.

by Jasper on Oct 30, 2013 4:30 pm • linkreport

Jim Vaughan, build structured parking instead and build it based on daily peak demand (at market rates) vs absolutely highest loads forseeable.

by BTA on Oct 30, 2013 4:31 pm • linkreport

Only in America. Elsewhere buildings are built to last.

IIUC bridges in early 19th century america were "built to last" and buildings in other countries today are built in the same way (often by the same architects) as in America.

The issue is not a different philosophy. Its that in premodern times one couldn't do the calculations on the structural engineering to do "just barely good enough" so engineers routinely over engineered. Today we have computers, and don't need as big a safety buffer. Which means we don't need to build a 100 year building when the financial return is coming in 20 years.

That said, there are 1950's buildings all over northern virginia which I wish were NOT lasting so long. They are quite sound, unfortunately.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Oct 30, 2013 4:48 pm • linkreport

A cluster of skyscrapers just north and west of Union Station (the general NoMa area) would make a lot of sense, given long-range plans for an augmented intermodal hub at Union Station, hopefully a future trunk subway line along M Street NW, streetcars along H Street, and the fact that much of the historic neighborhood here was razed long ago.

Oops, but part of this area encroaches on a corner of the original L'Enfant city. Should keeping outside the old borders of Washington City really be our only guiding principle if we pursue concentrated zones of tall buildings? I'm not so sure.

Just as points of reference in this debate, in addition to La Defense outside Paris, people may want to consider or better acquaint themselves with the pros and cons of Canary Wharf in London (London's answer to concentrated skyscraper development; done mostly by a single developer outside the core), the newer random skyscrapers in the City of London, and the Tour Montparnasse in Paris (the only super skyscraper within Paris itself, though it sits outside the monumental core of the city).

by nativedc on Oct 30, 2013 4:52 pm • linkreport

Washington, D.C. is an Americanized version of Paris, and is probably the closest thing in the America's to Paris. Also, people like to cite La Defense as a reason for D.C. to build up, what these people fail to realize is that La Defense isn't actually in Paris, it's in a town outside of Paris, much like Rosslyn. Height doesn't usually change housing prices either, because tall buildings are usually office buildings (ex. Empire State Building). The only thing that can truly bring down prices is higher density, if we increase density by making smaller apartments, we can increase population, tax revenue, population, etc. without changing the height of the city.

by TyGr on Oct 30, 2013 4:55 pm • linkreport

It's not only the smaller apartments (at least with Paris), it's also the very narrow streets, near 100% proportion of multi-unit buildings as housing options, and 11-12 metro lines (plus through running commuter service) compared to our 5 (soon to be 6, but with none of the new tracks in DC).

We could do those things I guess, I wouldn't really even mind it. Once I become dictator of DC I'll get on it.

by drumz on Oct 30, 2013 5:07 pm • linkreport

We seem to confuse the notion that height is always the solution for density. I think we can have greater small scale apartment-style density and create a more vibrant core without having 100-story buildings. The important idea is that we should be able to make those decisions - currently we cannot.

Why are we focused on if the height limit should change instead of first demanding that those decisions be made by District residents - especially for the area outside of the core? I don't understand how elected officials and residents say "No Taxation Without Representation" but on the building heights, they cling to Congressional rule. It's alright to disagree with changing height regulations but let residents make that decision. We should all agree on that.

by Randall M. on Oct 30, 2013 5:41 pm • linkreport

The biggest impediment to more density in DC's core is having rowhouses of 3000sf or more limited to 2 dwelling units. Putting a few mid-rises on commercial streets doesn't come close to offsetting that and yet there's nothing in the zoning re-write to raise this ridiculous limit.

by Tom Coumaris on Oct 30, 2013 5:55 pm • linkreport

Thanks for laying this out in a practical and pragmatic way. Too often people like to get into pissing matches when looking for a functional middle ground goes wanting. The following are some of my favorites...

#3 allowing more height in downtown to get a more mixed use downtown seems to make sense if one appreciates the value of a mixed usees to a neighborhood's vitality.

#4 is the flip side of #3 where by we would encourage office development in other commercial nodes, thus alleviating some of the stress on the transit system and again, working towards a mixed use vitality. The fact is today's employment patterns are far different than the 1950's where the suburbs flocked to the center and people stayed with one employer much longer. As anyone who's driven around, there's almost no way of escaping traffic jams.

#5 "Buildings that are expensive at first often become the next generation's affordable housing." Great point, which seems to call for the loosening of current regulations for quicker and more dependable building conditions.

#6 I love this call for better architecture, assuming we can agree on the minimum qualities of good architecture while not dictating style. Of course you will have to hear from those who say they need carte blanche to express themselves creatively, but don't believe them. Every architect works within constraints, and those that can't...ain't good.

#7 "One problem with tall buildings is many are so wide that they're boring to walk next to at the ground level. The minimalist facades of modern architecture compounds the problem."...nuff said.

by Thayer-D on Oct 30, 2013 8:03 pm • linkreport

Height doesn't usually change housing prices either, because tall buildings are usually office buildings

Except for One57, 8 Spruce Street, Trump World Tower, 56 Leonard Street - all in NYC and Trump Tower in Chicago and many more. The Cairo is DC's tallest building and it is residential. So, I'm calling this a very dubious claim.

It's alright to disagree with changing height regulations but let residents make that decision.

This. This is not said enough. Tommy Wells opposes lifting the height limit, but at the very least he should agree that DC citizens should make that choice.

by David C on Oct 30, 2013 9:21 pm • linkreport

New York is always brought up in these height comparisons, and how the rent is still so expensive there, even with the tall buildings. Maybe in Manhattan this applies, but Manhattan is only a small part of the overall city. Not all 8 million people in the city are paying $3,000/month for a one bedroom apt. There are still four other boroughs. The median household income in New York is a lot lower than in Washington.

So, maybe taller building here would bring down the rent, maybe it won't. Nobody knows until it actually happens. A 20 story building is definitely going to cost some cheddar, and the rents are going to have to be high enough to cover that. And in these taller buildings, if you can now see the monuments and capitol when you couldn't before, that will add to the rent as well.

I looked at a highrise in Alexandria when I was thinking about moving there, and it kept getting more expensive the more floors you went up. The agent told me the only reason apts. on the higher floors were more expensive was because of the height. The further up you went in this place, the more you could see into Washington with the monuments and capitol building.

by Nickyp on Oct 30, 2013 11:04 pm • linkreport


9. The image of the skyline from that vantage point (in the photo), will always be protected...there are no buildings that can be built anywhere close enough to ruin that scene. Even if you constructed a 1000-ft tower at 17th and K NW, it wouldn't change that scene.

@ Tygr: While La Defense is not in Paris, Paris does have dozens of buildings taller than 300 ft. all over town.

by Burd on Oct 31, 2013 12:02 am • linkreport

What?? Paris has Tour Montparnasse, which everyone hates, over 300' and that's it. The height limit in Paris is just over 6 stories.

by Tom Coumaris on Oct 31, 2013 12:27 am • linkreport

Didn't Paris raise their height limits a few years ago? I don't think any new tall buildings have been constructed yet but I remember a lot of controversy at the time.

by alexandrian on Oct 31, 2013 1:53 am • linkreport

@ AWalker:The issue is not a different philosophy. Its that in premodern times one couldn't do the calculations on the structural engineering to do "just barely good enough" so engineers routinely over engineered. Today we have computers

Ooh, the Chinese, Japanese, Greeks and Romans were just ignorant of proper calculus when they build their temples to last forever. Louis XIV overengineered Versailles. Odd, I never thought of it that way. I thought all those buildings were build as a lasting monument to the ego of the builders. Good thing Donald Trump has a bigger computer than an ego....

by Jasper on Oct 31, 2013 6:09 am • linkreport

If you're building a temple to your deity, or a palace for your dynasty, of course you want it to last forever. If you're a real estate developer, what is your incentive to build structures that last longer than a lifetime? Especially if preferred building technologies will change drastically over that time (LEED etc.).

by Eric on Oct 31, 2013 7:16 am • linkreport

Well done! However, you had me at all points except number 7. The planners idea of what every street should look like creates falsehoods that attempt to force architects and owners to devolve every block and every building in to cartoonish vignettes of “streetscape.” This falsification of design makes parts of Arlington and Bethesda look contrived and in fact like movie sets. These games are not fooling anyone and should only be used in DC when the neighborhood context demands it, not blindly sprayed over the entire city. Monumental streets, corners, gateways, and precinct edges should not be devolved. This clever technique should be reserved for internal neighborhood streetscapes only. You also don’t really address how absolutely overlooked the eastern 2/3 of DC is and will be unless we do something about it. If a 22 Century city is to be densified to be sustainable we must beautifully densify the eastern 2/3 of DC and not make it look like Ballston.

by AndrewJ on Oct 31, 2013 7:46 am • linkreport

I would have to disagree with the notion that breaking up a super block into smaller sections is cartoonish or that those games don't foor anyone. When someone's walking down the street, they aren't conciously studying what tricks the architect employed anymore than a movie goer is trying to break down the director's bag of tricks to tell his or her story. That's not to say it can't be done cartoonishly, but most architects do it well like in Bethesda Row or Chinatown. Let's not get into the circular argument of what's false in architecture though becasue any art form employs a level of deception.

As for the eastern part of the city, I thought he dealt with it in #2, although I agree that the up-zoning and enforcing by-right elements of the code are not sufficiently promoted.

by Thayer-D on Oct 31, 2013 8:40 am • linkreport

Policy makers should just remember that there is sun for several hours a day on DC Streets compared to NY and Chicago, where ultra-tall buildings ensure dark gloomy streets most of the time. It's why some people prefer DC.

by polo on Oct 31, 2013 8:44 am • linkreport

@Thayer-D
The fact is today's employment patterns are far different than the 1950's where the suburbs flocked to the center and people stayed with one employer much longer. As anyone who's driven around, there's almost no way of escaping traffic jams.

The fact that people change jobs more often is an argument for the centralization and clustering of employment centers, not for spreading out employment centers. If you cluster jobs in the center, then it makes it that much easier for people to change jobs.

by MLD on Oct 31, 2013 8:59 am • linkreport

Yes, the spreading of jobs and increase of two income households is what leads to lots of people in Maryland working in Tysons/Dulles which leads to new calls for an outer beltway because moving to Va or vice versa then could screw up the other working partner.

by drumz on Oct 31, 2013 9:07 am • linkreport

@MLD,
I am for clustering employment centers, which is why I advocate enlarging current employment centers like SW, Friendship Heights and Noma, and the Navy Yard that are all on existing transit. If you think that's sprawl, then we are reading from a different play book.

Employment centers in the plural vs. one downtown center which some people argue must be able to absorb all the potential growth in DC lest growth should come to an end.

by Thayer-D on Oct 31, 2013 9:21 am • linkreport

Having varying facades can also help affordability if it means a greater number of spaces for things. If you can fit 8 businesses on a block that's less demand than if you only fit 3 businesses on a block.

by drumz on Oct 31, 2013 9:22 am • linkreport

Exactly drumz, although in truth, this only needs to be done on the ground floor. The idea of extending distinct facades over the whole block should it be developed as such is more about creating a fine grained environment that seems to exist in the most sought after and successfull neighborhoods.

by Thayer-D on Oct 31, 2013 9:25 am • linkreport

I was only talking about the ground floor. I think most people are generally oblivious to what's above them (not to use that as an excuse) but a lot can be forgiven if you get the ground right.

I like what they did at 2000 Penn. http://www.2000penn.com/

I think if you tried to do that for several blocks the historicism would get old but you could try and do that with a unified contemporary design. It's the spaces themselves I think that's important rather than the eclecticism in the facades.

by drumz on Oct 31, 2013 9:31 am • linkreport

Sounds good, right after they start builing out Ward 7 & 8. Let's stop stacking stuff downtown and spread out a little! Use the space we have wisely.

by YRgonnacallmeNIMBYneway on Oct 31, 2013 9:32 am • linkreport

I am for clustering employment centers, which is why I advocate enlarging current employment centers like SW, Friendship Heights and Noma, and the Navy Yard...

What are you advocating for, though? This is the existing policy.

by Alex B. on Oct 31, 2013 9:39 am • linkreport

Either people are oblivious to what's above them or they are not. If they are, then the several blocks of historicism wouldn't get old, yet looking at the prices historic neighborhoods seem to fetch, or the reactions to higher buildings, I think people aren't entirely oblivious to what's above them. Eitherway, there are many great examples of what you call contemporary design. Look at several newer condo buildings in the Logan Circle area. Not historicist, but playing very nice with-in the historic neighborhood. One of my favorites is on 15th and P. I don't think anyone would call that a pastiche facade, but it's certainly no Cafritz all galss special. Spaces are indeed important, but the market also seems do say that people like facades, not surprising since we are such a visual species. Here's a study on this fact from England.

http://www.ipsos-mori.com/researchpublications/researcharchive/973/Bungalows-Are-Peoples-Choice-In-England.aspx

by Thayer-D on Oct 31, 2013 9:40 am • linkreport

yet looking at the prices historic neighborhoods seem to fetch, or the reactions to higher buildings, I think people aren't entirely oblivious to what's above them.

Historic areas have value, no doubt. But taking a valuable place and preventing any additional housing supply (which is the net effect in many historic disticts) will also drive prices up.

Exclusionairy zoning; restrictions on development via historic preservation regs can have the same impact.

by Alex B. on Oct 31, 2013 9:46 am • linkreport

"I am for clustering employment centers, which is why I advocate enlarging current employment centers like SW, Friendship Heights and Noma, and the Navy Yard that are all on existing transit. If you think that's sprawl, then we are reading from a different play book. "

NoMa is well on its way to build out, and Navy Yard is not far behind. Both could benefit from buildings above the current height limit on select parcels (and in the case of Navy Yard, you sould build right by the Anacostia, on the North Shore, so no streets need lose sunlight)

Though at this point in time, Navy Yard, with only one metro line, has, I believe, a higher SOV mode share than the CBD does. Whether you call that "sprawl" or not is not relevant. Im not against sprawl because there is something magic in the word, or even because its always less aesthetically pleasing (it isn't always) but because its less conducive to alternatives to the automobile. Nice walkable blocks (which Navy Yard has) and SOME transit access (which Navy Yard has) are nice, but they are not the same as place with 5 (soon to be 6) metro lines, 2 commuter rail systems, intercity rail, and intercity bus.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Oct 31, 2013 9:46 am • linkreport

What are you advocating for, though? This is the existing policy.

Once again, I'm advocating for more of #2 with more backbone and more dependability from a developers point of view that when they go to build another Babes in Tenlytown, they won't have to lop off a story or get the facade tweeked for a year while they bleed money that could have gone into designing a better detailed building. We need to speed up the approvals process to get more units on line faster. We need to enforce by-right zoning, and we need to stand up to nimby's who don't understand that the city isn't their own special plaything, but the economic engine of the whole region.

by Thayer-D on Oct 31, 2013 9:47 am • linkreport

"Historic areas have value, no doubt. But taking a valuable place and preventing any additional housing supply (which is the net effect in many historic disticts) will also drive prices up."

So Alex, are you proposing tearing down Georgetown and Dupont Circle to rebuild them with 15 story towers? Is that what you think is holding back this city? Becasue I guarantee you if you do that, you will definatly generate affordability.

by Thayer-D on Oct 31, 2013 9:51 am • linkreport

So Alex, are you proposing tearing down Georgetown and Dupont Circle to rebuild them with 15 story towers?

No, of course not. Why impose such a strawman on my statement?

I just ask that when we consider the benefits of historic preservation that we also consider the substantial costs - both in real terms and the opportunity costs.

Likewise, there are plenty of historic districts (Capitol Hill comes to mind) where a) there are existing, old, and contributing apartment buildings in the neighborhood, that would benefit tremendously from some new housing stock to allow the prosperous area a little room to grow.

by Alex B. on Oct 31, 2013 9:56 am • linkreport

"So Alex, are you proposing tearing down Georgetown and Dupont Circle to rebuild them with 15 story towers?"

That would be a mistake, IMO. As would be tearing them down to create 6 story apt blocks modeled on Hausmann's Paris.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Oct 31, 2013 9:59 am • linkreport

Well then Alex, I think we agree on that point. I'm all for infilling historic neighborhoods with appropriate infill as long as we do it harmoniously, like was done before architects where taught that every everybuilding needed to be glass. But that's another discussion.

by Thayer-D on Oct 31, 2013 10:09 am • linkreport

Washington doesn't need to build up. Paris, which has a similar skyline without skyscrapers has a population of 2.2 million people in 34 square miles. The District of Columbia has a population of 632,000 in 62 square miles. We can achieve a lot more density without sacrificing character.

For the record, La Defense is outside of Paris so the comparison between it and Washington is not a good one. You actually may my point in that a more accurate comparison is between Rosslyn and La Defense. In that way, I agree that denser development there can be done without impacting the character of Washington DC.

by Steve on Oct 31, 2013 10:15 am • linkreport

I'm going to ruthlessly boo the next person to mention that La Defense is outside of Paris. It's mentioned like 20 times now.

And let us just agree that Washington doesn't NEED to build up. But it also doesn't NEED to have a height limit. The question is which would be better. And a little more height would make DC better for all the reasons that have been repeated over and over again. For all of those who dream about DC being like Paris, I'm awaiting a response to drumz' point

It's an incredibly unaffordable city that had actual riots in 2005 dealing with the high cost of housing.

Is that what you want?

by David C on Oct 31, 2013 10:25 am • linkreport

Paris also replaced its lower density neighborhoods with 6 story apartments thanks to a visionary planner who was backed up by the force of an unelected, more less authoritarian (it varied during his reign) monarch.

Radical visions are fine, but I think keeping the US a democracy is not overly conservative.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Oct 31, 2013 10:29 am • linkreport

David, I think it's more that just how unaffordable the center of Paris is. I think it has a lot to do with the quality of the environment that those rioters live in and thier station as outsiders in a society that still believes you need French blood to be fully accepted. We are just getting over those tribal ways ourselves...barely?

by Thayer-D on Oct 31, 2013 10:32 am • linkreport

The costs of housing were a factor though. I can't say if they were the greatest or whatever but it was something I saw/heard expressed multiple times.

by drumz on Oct 31, 2013 10:39 am • linkreport

@Steve
Washington doesn't need to build up. Paris, which has a similar skyline without skyscrapers has a population of 2.2 million people in 34 square miles. The District of Columbia has a population of 632,000 in 62 square miles. We can achieve a lot more density without sacrificing character.

The AVERAGE density of Paris is as dense as the densest census tracts in DC. Is that what you want to emulate? Take out the parks in DC and you are basically saying that at least 2/3 of the land left over should be built up to the density of Columbia Heights or Dupont. So the whole city would consist of rowhouses punctuated with taller apartment buildings.

Have people ever seen what living in Paris is like? Seems like sometimes the same people complaining about how we don't need to modify the height act because Paris are the same ones complaining about the prevalence of "micro-apartments" and studios for young people, and no room for families. Paris is dense and short precisely because people live in teeny-tiny apartments!

@Thayer-D
I am for clustering employment centers, which is why I advocate enlarging current employment centers like SW, Friendship Heights and Noma, and the Navy Yard that are all on existing transit. If you think that's sprawl, then we are reading from a different play book.

I didn't use the word 'sprawl' precisely because I don't think you're advocating for sprawl.

Employment centers in the plural vs. one downtown center which some people argue must be able to absorb all the potential growth in DC lest growth should come to an end.

Why? It's been argued and shown with data here over and over that spreading out employment centers, even to places that are connected to transit, reduces the ability of people to switch jobs and results in lower transit use than clustering in the center. Navy Yard and NoMa might have some room now, but the reality is that for a lot of businesses they don't see much benefit to being located in Friendship Heights over being located further out where there is no transit at all. It is either downtown or head for sprawl.

by MLD on Oct 31, 2013 10:51 am • linkreport

BTW, there are now 3 residential projects under construction in Navy Yard right now, one parcel which is now fenced off (had been a surface parking lot) for imminent construction, another parcel (the building that will have the Whole Foods) well set to break ground within the next 12 months I believe, and one near the ballpark that has just announced a deal with a hotel chain, and will soon break ground. Navy Yard is proceeding towards buildout at a frenetic pace.

One wonders - if the height limit is not revised now, and we revisit it in 4 or 5 years, when buildout in the CBD, NoMa, Navy Yard, etc are much more imminent - will the current opponents of change relent? Or will they say there is no more point to changing the limit, because there are no more vacant parcels?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Oct 31, 2013 10:57 am • linkreport

"I am for clustering employment centers, which is why I advocate enlarging current employment centers like SW, Friendship Heights and Noma, and the Navy Yard that are all on existing transit."
"NoMa is well on its way to build out, and Navy Yard is not far behind"

And Friendship Heights has limited infrastructure to become a major employment center, tall buildings or not. It has a single Metro stop on the red line, one arterial road (Wisconsin) and no close-by highway access. (The Beltway is several miles away). It's other roads are second and third level streets. On the DC side, it is mostly two short blocks wide, along Wisconsin, which are adjacent to SFH 'hoods. So it's unlikely to become a major employment center like Rosslyn or even the Navy Yard area.

by Jasper2 on Oct 31, 2013 11:21 am • linkreport

Paris also replaced its lower density neighborhoods with 6 story apartments thanks to a visionary planner who was backed up by the force of an unelected, more less authoritarian (it varied during his reign) monarch

So did New York in the 1920's to 1930's, but they used the market place along with transit and zoning laws. Radical!

by Thayer-D on Oct 31, 2013 11:23 am • linkreport

@ MLD,

The fact that people change jobs more often is an argument for the centralization and clustering of employment centers

It is either downtown or head for sprawl.

So which are you arguing for, one center or multiple centers like London, Paris, and New York?

by Thayer-D on Oct 31, 2013 11:30 am • linkreport

Hey man (or woman, or whatever), most of us here are on board with making the city denser in multiple ways. Like I said the other day, it's not us or Harriet Tregoning you need to convince to make the city denser in general. I'd run down the street screaming if OP decided to adopt much of McMillan Two (http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/3783/mcmillan-two-envisions-a-classical-anacostia/) I just don't think there is value against holding out against current desires to change the height limit law in the hopes that something like that would happen.

by drumz on Oct 31, 2013 11:30 am • linkreport

You might not think there's value in pushing for more density without height increases, but thankfully not everyone agrees with that position, including some politicians who see value in developing other parts of the city.

by Thayer-D on Oct 31, 2013 11:41 am • linkreport

"So did New York in the 1920's to 1930's, but they used the market place along with transit and zoning laws. Radical!"

???

NYC has lots of modestly sized rowhomes. Even in close parts of North Brooklyn, and in Greenwich Village. And some pockets of the upper east and west sides (though those rowhomes are usually taller).

There even single family detached homes remaining in Crown Heights, and I think a few in pockets of north brooklyn.

For the most part the 6 story apartment houses built in NYC in the 1920s were built on vacant or very low density (IE old country houses on large lots) parcels. There was no mass demolition of two story rowhouses that I am aware of.

Thats why A. NYC, is less dense than Paris. NYC excluding the buildings in excess of 10 stories is MUCH less dense than Paris. B. The pattern of NYC is what it is - in Brooklyn, for example, you have blocks of rowhomes across the northern half of the borough, while you have large numbers of 6 story apt buildings in more distant neighborhoods.

I would also note that in most of Brooklyn, you have 6 story buildings concentrated on a few wider avenues - in between you usually have a mix of small rowhouses and/or detached SFH's - or in some areas, 3 story multifamily houses. Again, this results in a much lower average density than one would find in a Hausmannized city.

I grew up in one such neighborhood BTW. I can assure you that neighborhoods built to the density of Paris in the 1920s (and IIUC there was relatively little building in NYC in the 1930s, due to overbuilding in the 1920s and the economic downturn) in NYC are pretty rare.

Can you give me some specific examples of neighborhoods in NYC that had large scale demolition of rowhouses to make way for 6 story apt buildings in that period? The only ones I can think of are public housing projects built on what were considered decayed or unliveable properties.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Oct 31, 2013 11:41 am • linkreport

"So which are you arguing for, one center or multiple centers like London, Paris, and New York?"

No one is arguing for there being only one center - thats a straw man. What we are arguing against is using the height limit to artificially shift more development to those other centers than would otherwise be the case - and for good reasons, those other centers are A. going to have higher SOV share than downtown DC B. Will in many cases not be able to compete with centers with VERY high SOV share.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Oct 31, 2013 11:44 am • linkreport

thayer

Do you think Arlington should adopt a 12 story height limit? Would that be good or not?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Oct 31, 2013 11:45 am • linkreport

So which are you arguing for, one center or multiple centers like London, Paris, and New York?

When we get a transit network like London, Paris, or New York that makes getting to each of those centers pretty equally convenient, then you can have at it with your multiple employment centers.

But if you are a business and you are trying to decide whether to locate in Friendship Heights or more suburban MD, either one is probably just as convenient for the portion of your workers who live in Virginia - and will likely end up driving rather than Metroing to the center and back out. That means a higher likelihood of that business moving to suburban MD and less employment for DC than if that space was available downtown.

by MLD on Oct 31, 2013 11:59 am • linkreport

New York's centers came about since a lot of the workers were already living uptown so it made since to put some offices in mid town iirc. Not because of a height limit downtown.

by drumz on Oct 31, 2013 12:05 pm • linkreport

Flatbush, South Bronx, Upper West Side, etc.

by Thayer-D on Oct 31, 2013 12:22 pm • linkreport

But did those neighborhoods develop as a response to a height limit?

by drumz on Oct 31, 2013 12:25 pm • linkreport

The reason there are clusters of skyscrapers on Manhattan has to do with geology. The area around Wall Street and Midtown both have sturdy metamorphic bedrock fairly close to the surface. In between, it's more costly to build tall structures.

by Steve K on Oct 31, 2013 12:41 pm • linkreport

That has been debunked. If it was true then it probably isn't now, the greater hurdle would be the political fight of putting a skyscraper in those areas.

by drumz on Oct 31, 2013 12:46 pm • linkreport

"Flatbush, South Bronx, Upper West Side, etc. "

I grew up about a mile from Flatbush. Flatbush to this day has lots of rowhouses, and some detached SFHs. AFAIK the 6 story apt buildings there were largely built on low density parcels - not on the sites of old row houses.

The Upper West reached its current density, esp mid block on the side streets, before WW1. And many of the larger buildings on the avenues are pre WW1 as well.

Im less sure of the South Bronx - i believe at least some of those 6 story buildings (many of which no longer exist - Im not sure I would give that as an example of desirable urban change) were built pre-WW1. Im also not sure that what they were built on was rowhomes, as opposed to lower density development. I would also beleive that there are still rowhomes in the South Bronx, though not so many as brooklyn, and it varies by neighborhood within the S Bronx.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Oct 31, 2013 1:03 pm • linkreport

BTW from City Hall (the north end of downtown Manhattan) to Herald Square (the south end of intense activity in midtown)
is under 3 miles.

thats only slightly longer than from K and 26th (where the west end of downtown ends) to Union Station.

To imitate NYC would mean more development in NoMa, SW waterfront, and Navy Yard - all of which are not that far from buildout, and will soon be constrained by the height limit themselves. It does NOT mean more development in Tenleytown or Ft Totten (or Ballston or Tyson)

by AWalkerInTheCity on Oct 31, 2013 1:09 pm • linkreport

mott haven


View Larger Map

I see lots of 4 story rowhouses.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Oct 31, 2013 1:13 pm • linkreport

The difference between you and me AWITC, is that your and economist and I'm a designer. You seem to focus with a microscope and I tend to look at panoramas. My whole point is that many NYC neighborhoods have been paved over several times. BTW, what neighborhood did you grow up in? I went to Pratt and have incredible memories biking though out the old neighborhoods of north Brooklyn. One of the saving graces of NYC's consolidation in 1896 (?) was that so much of Brooklyn's historic fabric was spared. I love that borough.

by Thayer-D on Oct 31, 2013 1:38 pm • linkreport

The panorama of NYC is that most areas that have achieved rowhouse density have not been paved over again since, and many of those which have been have been built to well over 10 stories. Ergo, the notion of taking a city of rowhouses and replacing it with a Hausmanized city of wall to wall 6 story apt (and thats the alternative to raising the height limit that still avoid sprawl lets not forget) without actually having a Louis Napoleon, is unrealistic.Ergo, supporting the height limit is supporting sprawl. That is the big picture, and the details are merely to correct the unfounded hope that there is a serious alternative.

I grew up in Boro Park, in a 6 story apartment building, on a block shared with rowhouses and detached houses.

Boro Park is tan exceptional part of NYC that HAS seen its legacy of mostly prairie style SFHs replaced by 4 to 6 story buildings in the last couple of decades. The mostly Orthodox Jewish population has relatively little interest in neighbhorhood aesthetics, but a strong craving for residential Square footage for their exploding population (and also clout at city hall to overcome any historic preservation or NIMBY opposition). If you go there it will certainly challenge the notion that widespread 6 story buildings designed without glass or modernist ideology make for anything particularly attractive. Though the density certainly does put lots of pedestrians on the street.


View Larger Map

The old and the new.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Oct 31, 2013 1:54 pm • linkreport


View Larger Map

The old and the new

by AWalkerInTheCity on Oct 31, 2013 1:57 pm • linkreport

Very cool. I used to bike down Ocean Ave. to Brighton Beach and get some dirt cheap russian street food. Along the way there where Jewish neighborhoods with everybody dressed up. Loved it. And yes, the brick traditional buildings of the post war era are grotesque by and large, but that's a matter of training, not style. Infact, as I've said before, there are many cool condo buildings in Logan circle that I love, which are definatly not traditional.

But for the record, as for your comment that many areas of NYC that achieved row house density haven't been paved over is more true of Brooklyn than Manhattan. The whole of Midtown was a field of brownstones. It can happen here also, while we keep our Grenwich Villages intact with good planning and transit.

by Thayer-D on Oct 31, 2013 2:07 pm • linkreport

But for the record, as for your comment that many areas of NYC that achieved row house density haven't been paved over is more true of Brooklyn than Manhattan. The whole of Midtown was a field of brownstones. It can happen here also, while we keep our Grenwich Villages intact with good planning and transit.

The whole reason Greenwich Village could stay the way it is was because that demand for more office space got absorbed by tall buildings in Midtown! If NYC had a height limit the whole area would have been more likely to be replaced.

I'm sure you already know this but there are ALREADY parts of DC that are now tall buildings but used to be rowhouses. But they got torn up, partially because we had to build out instead of up.

by MLD on Oct 31, 2013 2:39 pm • linkreport

The whole of Midtown was a field of brownstones.

and was, for the most part, rebuilt at heights well above 10 stories. I guess some of areas rebuilt earlier,like 5th avenue, were built to 10 or so stories. Not 6 stories. And I think even midtown still has a some midblock rowhouses (but large ones) on the side streets.

Im not saying that redeveloping townhouses to higher densities is impossible. It happens a fair amount. But again, step back to the panorama. To the policy issue. The policy issue is this - can we substitute hausmanization, IE tearing down rowhouse and (relatively dense) SFH neighborhoods, and building them at a "humane" height (which in Paris is 6 stories) and provide enough new density to substantially less sprawl, and thus make modification of the DC height act unnecessary.

That means LOTS of new sq footage in the neighborhoods. It means Hausmanization - IE really turning DC into Paris. Not tearing down one neighborhood, not tearing down a few parcels at key corner lots, or only on the wider avenues, etc, or only where the housing is already in a state of decay, or where the density is as low as a 19th century Dutch American village in outer brooklyn.

All those things will only delay build out by modest amount of time.

It means doing something as radical as what hausmann did. And THAT requires, AFAICT, a Louis Napoleon - a govt that can ignore local public opinion AND that share the goals of massive densification (and for some reason also wants to keep the height limit - not much of an issue for Nap III who had no high speed elevators)

Its wonderful that your vision has created much thoughtful commentary and the history of cities. In the real world, keeping the height act in place as it is will, indeed, mean more sprawl, not more DC neighborhoods resembling Paris.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Oct 31, 2013 2:43 pm • linkreport

"And yes, the brick traditional buildings of the post war era are grotesque by and large, but that's a matter of training, not style."

Because of course, a developer in brooklyn selling to large families who need cheap space above all, is going to pay for a distinguished architect to solve the problem of creating beauty within constraints, rather than a hack who will stamp his plans for a steady living. Right.

If we are talking of Hausmanizing DC, and of both limiting height, and avoiding sprawl, and meeting american ideas (not Parisian ideas) of space per person, we have to consider the possibility that there will be lots of commodified buildings done. Maybe it wont be quite as bad as Brooklyn, but I wouldnt expect it to be like Logan Circle today - those are products aimed at an elite, while the uneducated head to ramblers in the suburbs.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Oct 31, 2013 2:48 pm • linkreport

oh and you probably biked down ocean parkway,not ocean avenue, or you were very foolish.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Oct 31, 2013 2:52 pm • linkreport

"All those things will only delay build out by modest amount of time." Which is what your 30 year incrimental raising the height would do also by your own addmision.

"Because of course, a developer in brooklyn selling to large families who need cheap space above all, is going to pay for a distinguished architect to solve the problem of creating beauty within constraints, rather than a hack who will stamp his plans for a steady living"

So the distinguished archietcts who rebuilt much of the East Side (NYC) rowhouse neighborhoods left us with memorable buildings? BTW, you should have shown some of the crap in Williamsburg to build that straw man.

by Thayer-D on Oct 31, 2013 2:57 pm • linkreport

Which is what your 30 year incrimental raising the height would do also by your own addmision.

Right which is why I'm not suggesting raising the height limit is a substitute for any other desirable and feasible ways to increase density in WUPs. I suggest we try to do BOTH. Fight for the parking free buildings in upper NW, for a vibrant new neighborhood in McMillan, for the form based code (with six story height limit !!!!) on Columbia Pike in Arlington, for lots of things throughout the region - AND for raising the height limit in DC (and maybe, someday, in Crystal City/Rosslyn by working something out wiht FAA, and maybe in Tysons when transit becomes adequate there)

Im not the one suggesting an opposition between tall building in select places, and neighborhood densification at lower heights. I think its a false choice.

So the distinguished archietcts who rebuilt much of the East Side (NYC) rowhouse neighborhoods left us with memorable buildings?,

I'm assuming you mean the post war ones. Yes, I would say several. I've spent enough time in Midtown, I would definitely say I have an easier time finding buildings that delight me among the modernist hirises of midtown, than among the post 1980 buildings of Boro Park or South Williamsburg (I assume you were referring to South Williamsburg for crap, not high concept North Williamsburg).

But the larger point is, we can get crap either way. And we can get quality either way. So we shouldn't allow questions of architectural quality to cause us to keep the height limit, and if we ARE looking for some unique buildings at greater heights, we probably do need an arch review board as Dan suggests. We should instead return to the mundane questions of build out, affordability, and mode share.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Oct 31, 2013 3:16 pm • linkreport


View Larger Map

North Williamsburg


View Larger Map

South Williamburg

Take your pick.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Oct 31, 2013 3:20 pm • linkreport

and yes, that building below is a product of the 21st century.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Oct 31, 2013 3:21 pm • linkreport

One thing for those supporting 6 story Hausmann style Paris buildings is that current DC Height limits restrict that in many places. Along Penn Ave SE, Jenkins Row is only 5 stories, the condo at 11th and Penn is only 4 stories and the Hine site is only going to be 5 stories tall. Some of that is due to NIMBY opposition, but even that prevents the kind of spreading out that some are calling for. Two of those buildings are on top of metro stops.

by David C on Oct 31, 2013 4:27 pm • linkreport

@ Tom Coumaris

"What?? Paris has Tour Montparnasse, which everyone hates, over 300' and that's it."

That's incorrect! Hotel Concorde La Fayette is 449 ft and Tour Prélude, Orgues de Flandre, is 404 ft. for example.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_tallest_buildings_and_structures_in_the_Paris_region

by Burd on Oct 31, 2013 4:57 pm • linkreport

Dear Thayer-D, I regret to hear that design sense is “circular” to you. Now that opens another problem with these 9 points. If we are going to pretend that there is no such thing as good design then point 6 on good architecture goes nowhere. If no one owns up to having any visual values then all DC will get is lumps of Ballston or some instant Chinese condo masses all over DC. If you’re going to let people do whatever they want then don’t change any laws because no one can be trusted.

by AndrewJ on Oct 31, 2013 5:38 pm • linkreport

To the 4th commenter: Can you please explain your comment "That photo of Houston made me shudder." I don't see any reference to Houston anywhere in this article nor any of its links.

by slowlane on Oct 31, 2013 11:39 pm • linkreport

Andrewj
By circular I meant...

Let's not get into the circular argument of what's false in architecture though becasue any art form employs a level of deception.

It's a hang up of modernists who insist their buildings aren't fake versions of some old European style without acknowledging that Modernism is on old European style.

by Thayer-D on Nov 1, 2013 9:43 am • linkreport

Although I like some of the list here of 9 policies in general, it misses the core economic injustices of these punitive current height restrictions, because it does not begin to suggest how economically destructive forbidding tall buildings in DC is, preventing local markets and economic growth, and preventing the local tax base needed for all infrastructure and public education improvements. We need to find narrow zones to drastically up-zone, but these zones must be extremely well thought out, such as maximizing sunlight on public spaces.

BEST TWO RAIL HUBS:
DC Union Station, and L'Enfant Plaza, would be the best two stops for unlimited height of buildings (800 feet tall and taller), because of how many Metro rail lines cross there, and MARC and VRE commuter rail, and Amtrak. These two stops have the best chance of unifying the largest region with efficient rail transportation. Starting with just zoning changes to these two stops first is best, so that the tallest buildings are built, and built quickly, and more such tall buildings are built.

AVOID SILLY LAWS:
Incremental tiny increases of amounts of one or two stories across the entire city are basically irrelevant, largely preventing actual changes to the building heights, because of how expensive it is to remove expensive only slightly shorter buildings. Small acreage of unlimited tall buildings is best, focusing growth on the longest term. Keeping broader existing fabric outside the unlimited height zones, by focusing growth with selected upzoning, causes the least change for most people and homes, and long term this would increase the chance of preserving the traditional fabric, and when the traditional building fabric is changed, there is economic incentive to go for the maximum height of towers to benefit the largest number of people.

ADD 3 MORE DOWNTOWN METRO HUBS:
I would strongly suggest that after completion of tallest buildings at the best 2 rail hubs, that 3 more Metro rail and K Street streetcar hubs (not reached by current commuter rail nor Amtrak), of Metro stops at Metro Center, Chinatown/Gallery Place, and the two Farraguts (West and North), should also eventually be unlimited height towers.

EAST SIDE OF MIDDLE DC CONNECTICUT AVE?:
To really add to the city fabric, larger zones away from downtown should also be upzoned, sited preferably well above sea level, such as Connecticut Ave from Woodley and northward, set back from downtown to maximize integration with desirable existing neighborhoods and services such as schools, increasing these apartment and some office buildings perhaps also to unlimited height would be wise. West of Rock Creek Park, the 3 Metro stops of Woodley Park, Cleveland Park, and Van Ness, are likely best for several basic reasons. Connecticut is a slight diagonal, towards the north west, making east side of the street also the north side of the street, reducing shadow impact of tall buildings built on the east side of the street. This portion of Connecticut has three subway stops. This Avenue is remarkably smooth, straight and flat, making buses a viable substitute for Metro rail, should the need ever arise. Many of the building sites actually face or descend the cliffs of Rock Creek, making below street grade apartments possible with extremely pleasant Park views, increasing density, without adding to building heights, but rather building depths. And last and best, unlike Wisconsin Ave, Connecticut Ave is well below the Ft. Reno Reservoir, 200 feet different in altitude, making pumping drinking water up the towers in all of DC much more reliable and easier, compared with most of Wisconsin Ave and Georgia Ave, both Avenues built to keep feet dry, when these roads were first built and only dirt roads, built at the maximum altitude to prevent road flooding. Building residential and office towers on Wisconsin Ave in Tenleytown, the ground floor of the buildings are the same height as the current Ft Reno Reservoir, both about 400 feet above sea level at street level, would make water both much more expensive and much less unreliable.

Upper Connecticut Ave needs a Metro line, but starting with a BRT would be wise to minimize upfront costs. Buildings tall buildings on this section would of upper Connecticut Ave, north of Van Ness Metro Stop, on the east side of the street, and on north side of Nebraska Ave east of Connecticut, would replace mostly post World War II buildings, changing the urban fabric the least, and sharing the most community fabric.

TALLER WATER TOWERS:
Building a taller water tower at Ft. Reno would be smart, perhaps 400 feet tall, starting water at 800 feet above sea level, would logically be a wise investment of the city, if the pipes can be built to connect the reservoir to the building, and reach 800 feet above sea level, up a tallest building. This would not determine the tallest buildings, but rather assure reliable delivery of water to 800 feet above sea level, primarily for fire safety and for apartment owners, certainty of water supply. All such buildings would also require pumps to take low pressure water from street level up to the top of the building as well, minimizing the risk of water failure. For upper Connecticut Ave buildings, north of Van Ness Metro stop, for example, 800 feet above sea level would make buildings more than 400 feet tall extremely reliable. For the Van Ness to Woodley section, buildings 600 feet tall would have extremely reliable drinking water. For downtown buildings 700 feet tall would have extremely reliable drinking water.

CURRENT HEIGHT LAW SPECIFICS:
The US Congress's height law, banning buildings taller than about 160 feet or 12 to 14 stories (specifically determined for each building by the street width based calculation to determine the maximum building height) is insanity that has a mind bogglingly massive economic cost to the city and region. A comparison is required to show the opportunity cost of forced inefficiency.

In 1811, NYC copied DC's street grid policy of 1801, and that led directly to NYC having more than 100 buildings classified as skyscrapers in NYC, because they are taller than 600 feet tall. In DC, the Washington Monument would not even count as a skyscraper in NYC, because it only 555 feet tall. Anyone declaring that the DC skyline should be short than the Washington Monument is demanding we gut the economic potential of the Washington DC and its people.

There is no data on how many buildings in NYC violate DC height limits, but it is safe to assume all building taller than 14 stories would be illegal in DC, covering a massive percentage of Manhattan.

Calculating the opportunity cost of artificial legal height limits, is hard, because it is a data driven task. It is extremely difficult to point to a tall building which was never built, called proving a negative, as is always the case in DC, but the 9-11, 2001, terrorism attack, gives a sense of how destructive it is to no longer have such density of opportunity which comes from extremely efficient transportation and tall buildings. That efficiency and density of opportunity is why NYC immediately rebuilt the World Trade Buildings, and continue to build tallest buildings.

EDUCATION NEEDED FROM EXPANDED ECONOMIC AND TAX BASE:
What is the damage to DC people not having the density of opportunity and voting rights of NYC? For example, US Congress made DC wait 104 years to establish a 4 year liberal arts public university founded 1966, after passage of the Morrill Land Grant College Act of 1862. Even today, although DC has economic activity (GDP) and pays more Federal taxes, more than both Vermont and Wyoming combined, our public university is so bad it is unranked by US News and World Reports, while both UVM and UWyoming are in the to 40 public universities nationwide, when many states have multiple public universities, there are drastically more than public universities in the US.

UDC is so poorly performing, it is not even ranked, strongly suggests that US Congress has used many methods to undercut the city and its people. Fixing that damage, requires Statehood, and that new DC state government using best public policy, to grow the economy, to fund a highest quality 4 year public university, and AP course at many DC public high schools, are essential goals for investment.

TRANSIT NEEDED FROM EXPANDED ECONOMIC AND TAX BASE:
Adding many subway miles, improved commuter rail, high speed rail, and airport express trains, are also essential uses of the tax base and DC economy, to further enhance growth. The opportunity cost of not having these things is so massive long term, it is nearly impossible to calculate, but the damage to DC citizens is mind blowing.

THE MONEY:
Building DC public education and transportation infrastructure will require massive money, but skillfully removing the height limits is how to create the economic base and increase city tax income without changing city tax rates at all. It is the increased opportunity from adding square feet of homes and offices, which makes the growth happen.

A SKYSCRAPER ZONE MAP AND DREAM SUBWAY LINE:
I made a dream subway map, a line I called the "Skyline" in my notes, using Cyan Blue to mark the route, and tried to identify where the unlimited height building zone should be to best balance local design and sunlight access priorities should place these buildings, such as north of Massachusetts Ave, often north of K Street, and so on.
Skyline Dream Map:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/65540798@N08/6603236315/in/photostream/
Related Sky Scraper Up Zoning:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/65540798@N08/6603236089/in/photostream/

CITY POPULATION DENSITY:
DC is currently 600,000+ people, perhaps around 630,000 by current estimates. DC was 900,000+ people during World War II, shrinking more than 330,000 people over 50 years, for a wide variety of reasons, such as Federal removal of most national security personnel to the full voting suburbs to prevent motives for disloyalty such as disenfranchisement by US Congress and poor DC public schools because related poor Congressional policy, Congress removing the DC Streetcar system in 1955-1962, and so on.

Regional core population (DC, Fairfax, Arlington, Alexandria, Montgomery, Prince Georges Counties and tiny Fairfax city county) has grown from roughly 1 million during World War II, to 3.72 million people by the 2000 US Census.

If DC was the same population density of Brooklyn area of New York City, DC would be 2.16 Million people inside DC alone, more than 3 times current DC population of 630,000+ people. If DC was the same population density as Manhattan area of New York City, DC would be more than 4.3 million people, or 6 times as many people as it currently has.

Weather we should go to population totals that high is not a decision for this generation to prevent or attempt all at once. It is a perpetual maintenance question for all future DC generations. The best way to grow DC and the region, is to add the highest density expert labor market in downtown, through fewer but tallest safe height buildings at rail hubs, with near by tall residential apartment buildings to prevent required car commuting, combining maximum quality and efficiency of growth and markets, with least disruption to all other parts of the city, and adding similar tallest possible safe height buildings as they are needed, not requiring removing extremely valuable buildings incorrectly built to only a fraction of the tallest possible, e.g. removing 40 story building to build an 80 story building is extremely expensive. Going from 14 stories directly to 80 stories tall or more, one building at a time, is much much better for everyone in the city both short term and long term.

by Nathaniel Pendleton on Nov 4, 2013 5:29 am • linkreport

"The height law...has a mind bogglingly massive economic cost to the city and region."

"Anyone declaring that the DC skyline should be short than the Washington Monument is demanding we gut the economic potential of the Washington DC and its people."

It does sound like economic armagedon is around the corner when you put it that way, yet you show a great example of how we need not become an 80 story Hong Kong.

"If DC was the same population density of Brooklyn area of New York City, DC would be 2.16 Million people inside DC alone,"

It looks like if we can emulate what Brooklyn's density, we might not have to suffer through "mind-blowing damage". I hear they even have many charming neighborhoods! Who's for Brooklyn?

by Thayer-D on Nov 4, 2013 7:26 am • linkreport

@Thayer-D, Brooklyn's best and brightest commute to Manhattan each day, to the best expert labor markets of the region, creating the highest income jobs for the bed room community of Brooklyn. If you oppose Manhattan expert labor market opportunity density in DC, established and maintained in NYC by tall building density at the efficient rail hubs, and suggest only Brooklyn bedroom community density at DC's best rail hubs, where do you suggest DC citizens work? Bethesda? Arlington? Silver Spring?

How do you then propose to pay for maintaining and adding new infrastructure in DC? How do you propose to pay for education improvements in DC public education from cradle to grave?

I argue (perhaps too lengthily with not enough proof reading in the first long comment I made above that) DC, and the region, should have both the Manhattan style expert labor market opportunity density from tallest possible safe buildings at best downtown rail hubs, just like Brooklyn commuters enjoy in Manhattan. This creates the biggest benefit and long term upside and least change to DC city wide, and the region.

And what do you have against the success of Hong Kong, or Manhattan, or London, and the tallest towers in these cities, for that matter?

We in DC and the region, need focused maximum growth, and careful expansion of where those tallest towers go, as I listed above, first at 2 rail hubs, then add 3 more downtown Metro crossings & streetcar rail hubs, then add 3 Connecticut Ave stops, and then with expanded city opportunity and tax base, add more Metro lines, potentially adding a crossing at Foggy Bottom, adding one more downtown Metro crossing & streetcar rail hubs. A new Mass Ave line would be a logical mix of residential and employment.

This incrementally creates 2 super rail hubs, 4 downtown Metro crossing hubs, and 3 more residential tower neighborhoods for the long term. This focused density emphasizes 4 modes of rail, and minimizes car use, creating the least painful type of opportunity growth.

(Apologies for all the typos in the quickly written long comment I made too early this morning. I still don't know how many public universities there are in the US, in part because UDC strongly resembles a community college for many students, making comparison even harder. One website says 629 US public universities are 4 year, and 1,070 US public universities are 2 year only. Both UVM and UWY are in the top 100 of US public universities, 34th and 88th respectively in the current USN&WR list for the most recent year.)

by Nathaniel Pendleton on Nov 4, 2013 1:20 pm • linkreport

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