Greater Greater Washington

Architecture


No, DC is not going to be like Paris

Supporters of DC's height limit say restricting building heights has worked to keep Paris beautiful. But embracing the Parisian built form would have unintended consequences on DC's neighborhoods.


Demolition near l'Opéra in Paris, 1877. Photo by Charles Marville

The mid-rise Paris that we know today was built not by a democracy, but by a mad emperor and his bulldozer-wielding prefect. As Office of Planning director Harriet Tregoning said in a recent WAMU interview, "Paris took their residential neighborhoods and made them essentially block after block of small apartment buildings."

"If we were to do that in our neighborhoods, we could accommodate easily 100 years' worth of residential growth," she added. "But they would be very different neighborhoods."

A haunting exhibition of photographs by Charles Marville, now on view at the National Gallery of Art, offers us a glimpse at how this change manifested itself in Paris.

The city government hired Marville to document the systematic demolition of central Paris' low-rise neighborhoods, the construction of new mid-rise neighborhoods (the ones we know today) in their stead, and the widespread displacement of the center's low-income residents to the urban fringe. (Numerous books have been written about the era, notably "Transforming Paris," by David Jordan.) There were technological limits on buildings in that era, too: elevators were slow and expensive, and the new water mains could not supply satisfactory water pressure to the upper floors of many buildings.

Not dissimilarly, downtown DC's horizontal march has steamrolled numerous low-rise neighborhoods in its wake, from Chinatown to Foggy Bottom. Now that only a few blocks are left for downtown to grow into, office buildings are muscling into Shaw. This is only natural for a mid-rise city: Paris' mid-rise urban fabric superimposed on DC would spill outside the diamond, vastly larger than the existing downtown.

That path of destruction is why most other growing cities in this century (i.e., built-out but growing central cities, from London and Singapore to New York, Portland, Toronto, and San Francisco) have gone the Vancouver route and rezoned central industrial land for high-rises. This method allows them to simultaneously accommodate new housing, and new jobs, while keeping voters' single family houses intact.

By opposing higher buildings downtown, DC's neighborhoods are opposing change now, but at the cost of demanding far more wrenching changes ahead: substantial redevelopment of low-rise neighborhoods, skyrocketing property prices (as in Paris), or increasing irrelevance within the regional economy as jobs, housing, and economic activity get pushed further into suburbs that welcome growth.

Among large North American cities, only Toronto has joined DC in making a concerted effort to redirect growth into mid-rise buildings along streetcar lines, and only as an adjunct strategy in addition to hundreds of high-rises under construction. (The two metro regions are of surprisingly similar population today.) Yet there, just like here, neighborhoods are up in arms at the very notion.

DC cannot put a lid on development downtown, in the rowhouse neighborhoods, in the single-family neighborhoods, and on the few infill sites we have left, and yet somehow also accommodate enough new jobs and residents to make our city reliably solvent, much less sustainable. The sum of remaining developable land in the city amounts to 4.9% of the city, which as OP demonstrates through its analysis, cannot accommodate projected growth under existing mandates.

Something will have to give. A good place to start is a loophole-ridden law imposed back when DC was a protectorate and when Greater Washington counted fewer residents than today's Asheville or Quad Cities.

The Office of Planning has suggested a reasonable framework for a subtly revised Height Act that can accommodate growth and change while preserving the city's cherished urban design and historic neighborhoods. Adapting the rigid 130' cap to a street-width rule maintains the Height Act framework along our ceremonial avenues, where our city's namesake actually set a height minimum.

Along streets like L'Enfant Promenade, Washington had the right idea: taller buildings will better frame vistas. Beyond the L'Enfant City, the Comprehensive Plan and zoning ordinance will continue to ensure that most buildings never reach the 90' Height Act maximum, but the city will have the flexibility to adapt to evolving construction techniques and special opportunity sites.

As DC re-adjusts to a new century of urban growth, after a lost generation of population decline and disinvestment, inaction poses a far greater risk than action. Paris' combination of horizontality and verticality is undeniably beautiful, but its unique form resulted from a peculiar historical process that I would not wish upon an American city today.

The District of Columbia Council is accepting written testimony about the Height Act until next Tuesday. For more information or to send your comments, visit their website.

A version of this post appeared on West North.

Payton Chung, LEED AP ND, CNUa, sees the promises and perils of planning every day as a resident of Southwest Washington. He first addressed a city council about smart growth in 1996, accidentally authored Chicago's inclusionary housing law, blogs at west north, and is editor-at-large for Streetsblog USA

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Also, DC is not going to be like Manhattan. Can we please have a moratorium on people complaining that if we lift the height limit the city will become (horrors!) Manhattanized? DC could never achieve the population density of Manhattan if it wanted to. If you want to know what DC would look like without a height limit, look to Boston and San Francisco.

by alurin on Nov 7, 2013 2:50 pm • linkreport

The truth is Height opponents don't want Paris, they want zero change. I actually think some Parisian neighborhoods would be nice and the closest thing we have to them is probably Dupont. I don't even care about height per se. I want more density. As far as I'm concerned it can look like Paris or it can look like London. Perhaps the decision that should be offered would be to upzone ALL of DC to 6 or more stories of medium density residential OR just SOME of DC to greater density. We'll see how many people really go for the former.

by BTA on Nov 7, 2013 2:54 pm • linkreport

I'm also not sure I want to live in Paris anyway. DC has lovely townhouse neighborhoods. We should keep them and build more density near Metro stations. Which makes for an apt comparison, Paris has 245 stations (within the city limits - a smaller geographic area) compared to WMATA's 86 in the region. Unless we massively invest in the Metro to the tune of hundreds of billions, it would make more sense to focus our density around the existing and eventual new stations.

by BTA on Nov 7, 2013 3:05 pm • linkreport

Now that only a few blocks are left for downtown to grow into, office buildings are muscling into Shaw.

So much for the "end of growth" in DC argument if the height restriction is lifted. The truth is Downtown will expand the way downtown has always expanded, in every town that's happened. For ours, Shaw is by no means the oly direction to go.

Paris' combination of horizontality and verticality is undeniably beautiful, but its unique form resulted from a peculiar historical process that I would not wish upon an American city today.

But Paris is not the only town that was able to resist the temptation of a hightrise center and still remain livable regardless of what political regiem was in power. This inscesant drum beat that the only alternative we have is to flatten the whole city for a 6-8 story skyline is meant to scare people into believing there's no other alternative, when the Office of Planning hasn't or dosen't want to do a comprehensive study of what major upzoning along transit would look like.

by Thayer-D on Nov 7, 2013 3:11 pm • linkreport

Unlike the cities you mention, DC never had much industrial land to begin with, so unlike those cities we don't have significant swathes of underutilized land given today's industrial organization to repurpose.

Nice piece.

by Richard Layman on Nov 7, 2013 3:15 pm • linkreport

The truth is Downtown will expand the way downtown has always expanded,

So...up?

But Paris is not the only town that was able to resist the temptation of a hightrise center and still remain livable regardless of what political regiem was in power.

True, there was Munich. It only took carpet bombing for them to decide they liked keeping the buildings lower than the Frauenkirche Towers.

by drumz on Nov 7, 2013 3:21 pm • linkreport

But paris has skyscrapers. Not downtown, but they have them. DC could as well.

by beatbox on Nov 7, 2013 3:21 pm • linkreport

@ beatbox:But paris has skyscrapers. Not downtown, but they have them. DC could as well.

Greater Washington does. In Rosslyn. Ballston. Pentagon City. Crystsal City. Tysons Corner. Etc.

by Jasper on Nov 7, 2013 3:33 pm • linkreport

"But Paris is not the only town that was able to resist the temptation of a hightrise center and still remain livable regardless of what political regiem was in power."

examples of metros over 5 million without a highrise center that instead Hausmannized, and did so with a vibrant democratic political culture.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Nov 7, 2013 3:39 pm • linkreport

The issue is most people tend not to like skyscraper districts. If a city is only about generating money, then this site ought to be re-named Mo Money Washington rather than Greater Greater Washington. Density is what makes cities great, but do a survey of what makes a city great, and ask more than developers.

by Thayer-D on Nov 7, 2013 3:42 pm • linkreport

@Thayer-D:
The issue is most people tend not to like skyscraper districts.
Well, that's a broad statement. I guess the millions of people living in Manhattan, or the millions living in "skyscraper districts" elsewhere don't add up to most people, but...

Most Americans don't like DC enough to live here either. Does that mean we should just make sure that no more housing is built in DC?

by Gray on Nov 7, 2013 3:55 pm • linkreport

thats why everyone hates the loop and times square and rockefeller center. Tourist flee those places like the plague.

Ditto for downtown Boston, and Philly and Harbor East in Baltimore.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Nov 7, 2013 3:56 pm • linkreport

The issue is most people tend not to like skyscraper districts.

That's simply not true. My girlfriend is originally from Philadelphia. She has a lot of family and friends there and has a huge affinity for it. When we were there last month, she went out of her way to show me the new Comcast Center skyscraper in their Center City. She jokingly mocks our city (her adopted home city) as being "not a real city" because of the lack of skyscrapers downtown. The skyscraper skyline (especially as viewed from along Broad Street in South Philly) is a regular part of Philadelphia iconography just like it is in New York.

"Not liking skyscraper districts" is simply someone who takes the unreasonable position of opposing all change trying to pretend that it's about something else. It's just like an anti-Purple Line NIMBY pretending that opposing a cost-effective transit project that will benefit tens of thousands of people the day it opens claiming their opposition is about "mature trees."

by Cavan on Nov 7, 2013 4:09 pm • linkreport

Gray,
People will live in a rat hole if they can get in Manhattan. The question is given a choice, would they prefer a 25 story flat in the Upper East side, a 8 story Soho Loft, or a four story walk up in Chelsea. Another reason Brooklyn is taking off, it's so damn livable and beautiful. DC fortunatley has ample room to grow before we are forced to go up. Most of our city has an incredibly low skyline.

by Thayer-D on Nov 7, 2013 4:13 pm • linkreport

DC fortunatley has ample room to grow before we are forced to go up. Most of our city has an incredibly low skyline.

The post says "sum of remaining developable land in the city amounts to 4.9% of the city." The premise of your argument is incorrect.

by Cavan on Nov 7, 2013 4:16 pm • linkreport

People. What we have to realize is that the only place that would benefit from skyscrapers would be downtown because it is the most sought after area of DC that could support skyscrapers. But we all know that downtown is way too close to the mall to have skyscrapers, it would ruin the views. The only places where skyscrapers would be allowed would be in places that doesn't have a high demand for skyscrapers. Everyone jumps to height when rent gets expensive. But the truth is, building up the height doesn't make things less expensive, building more dense is what makes prices go down. So why are we talking about building up before talking about building more densely?

by TyGr on Nov 7, 2013 4:18 pm • linkreport

"The question is given a choice, would they prefer a 25 story flat in the Upper East side, a 8 story Soho Loft, or a four story walk up in Chelsea."

Lots of people wold take the flat in the UES, or the UWS side, or in Times square, which are all different experiences. Some people like lofts. Some would take the walkup for the relative quiet.

" The question is given a choice, would they prefer a 25 story flat in the Upper East side, a 8 story Soho Loft, or a four story walk up in Chelsea. Another reason Brooklyn is taking off, it's so damn livable and beautiful. DC fortunatley has ample room to grow before we are forced to go up. Most of our city has an incredibly low skyline.

"Another reason Brooklyn is taking off, it's so damn livable and beautiful."

And its not lacking in hirises - from downtown Bklyn to the North Williamsburg waterfront - that would not be legal in DC under the current height limit. There are also people going to hi rises in LIC and in Jersey City.

"DC fortunatley has ample room to grow before we are forced to go up. Most of our city has an incredibly low skyline. "

and most of that is low rise areas that are already built out to the current max FAR, or close to it. And thats the question - short of a govt resembling the second empire, is it possible to change that? Is it going to be easier to Hausmanize DC than to Bostonize or Baltimorize it?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Nov 7, 2013 4:20 pm • linkreport

Cavan,
I've actually supported a skyscraper district in some areas of DC if it actually came to that. And of course there are people who will jump at the chance to live in Trump tower, that's just not where the bulk of the market is, if realestate prices are any consideration.

I'm pro growth, pro purple line, pro density, pro most things nimby's are against and have a track record to show for it. It's a simple fact though that the office of planning hasn't done the leg work to proove that we must build up. Until they do, then it seems that providing dense walkable neighborhoods along dependable transit is the best solution for providing what the market seemsto like.

"She jokingly mocks our city (her adopted home city) as being "not a real city" because of the lack of skyscrapers downtown." Having grown up in DC, I've heard it all about how DC isn't a real city, yet it's real enough to attract a hell of a lot more people than Philly is now a days. Don't get me wrong, I love Philly, I was just there wondering why people aren't flooding back. Sooo many beautiful buildings.

But the same can be said about our low-slung skyline as about The skyscraper skyline's iconography in those two cities. It's part of our character, and a reason many people like DC. Before we go changing it, let the office of Planning prove it's absolutley necessary. They used to say it was necessary to tear whole neighborhoods down for the sake of progress or traffic. Get creative and show some political backbone (office of planning)

by Thayer-D on Nov 7, 2013 4:22 pm • linkreport

But we all know that downtown is way too close to the mall to have skyscrapers, it would ruin the views.

There are ways around this. Start here,

http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/housingcomplex/2013/07/24/imagining-d-c-under-a-modified-height-act/

Then consider other cities that have figured things out. Philly, our neighbor to the North has its own Mall not much smaller than our own and had a height limit that was much higher than the current DC one. There is also the William Penn Statue that has sighting guidelines as well. I'm not saying its a perfect analogy but it's something to consider.

by drumz on Nov 7, 2013 4:23 pm • linkreport

Unlike the cities you mention, DC never had much industrial land to begin with, so unlike those cities we don't have significant swathes of underutilized land given today's industrial organization to repurpose.
Follow the red line north of NoMa and the Penn Line out of Union. There is plenty of industrial land, it is just in the NE of the city. If there was seriously enough demand we would see things start to be developed there in a major way.

by Richard on Nov 7, 2013 4:24 pm • linkreport

The OP is pushing for ADUs, parking free buildings, and corner stores, and has certainly been (AFAIK) supportive of density at transit stations, and in places that DC govt directly controls like Hill East, McMillan, and Walter Reed. and didnt they do the study on development impacts of the street car system?

To say that OP is not being creative or showing political backbone seems to me to be unfair.

and of course its odd to bring up the tearing down of whole neighborhoods for highways - since raising the height limit would NOT mean tearing down whole neighborhoods, but Hausmanizing the city would.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Nov 7, 2013 4:27 pm • linkreport

What we have to realize is that the only place that would benefit from skyscrapers would be downtown because it is the most sought after area of DC that could support skyscrapers. But we all know that downtown is way too close to the mall to have skyscrapers, it would ruin the views.
Yeah, skyscrapers in Farragut, Metro Center, or the Judiciary Square-Noma corridor, would totally ruin the views.

@Thayer-D: Have you actually been to Brooklyn? It has lots of skyscrapers. Yes, not every building is a skyscraper, but nobody is arguing that every building in downtown DC should be a skyscraper. What those tall buildings do, though, is house a lot of residents and businesses, which increase street activity for everyone there. Making the area, as you put it, so damn livable.

Perhaps many people would rather live in low-rise buildings in great neighborhoods. But the point is, such a situation is only possible if we allow tall buildings to be built nearby. Without that density, we don't get great neighborhoods--unless, as this article points out, we find a way to destroy what we have and build medium-rise buildings everywhere.

by Gray on Nov 7, 2013 4:28 pm • linkreport

"Having grown up in DC, I've heard it all about how DC isn't a real city, yet it's real enough to attract a hell of a lot more people than Philly is now a days. Don't get me wrong, I love Philly, I was just there wondering why people aren't flooding back."

You know that just might have something to do with jobs.

But infact central Philly has been growing IIUC. Its the outer neighborhoods, farther from those nasty skyscrapers, that have continued to decline.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Nov 7, 2013 4:29 pm • linkreport

No one is talking about skyscrapers! We are talkinga bout 20 storeys instead of 12!

by BTA on Nov 7, 2013 4:29 pm • linkreport

@Thayer-D:
The issue is most people tend not to like skyscraper districts.
----

Which is why Manhattan, Chicago's Loop, Brickell in Miami, Center City Philadelphia, downtown Boston, downtown San Franciso, Uptown Charlotte, and Atlanta's Buckhead are such wastelands.

Thanks for clearing it up.

by ceefer66 on Nov 7, 2013 4:40 pm • linkreport

The question is given a choice, would they prefer a 25 story flat in the Upper East side, a 8 story Soho Loft, or a four story walk up in Chelsea.

I'd prefer a nice beach house in the Virgin Islands, just about 30-40 feet up from the water to avoid flooding during a hurricane, but that ain't gonna happen. Just like I can't afford to live in Soho or anywhere Manhattan. Can we please stick to the choices that are relevant to the other 99% of the population?

by Jasper on Nov 7, 2013 4:45 pm • linkreport

@cavan, @AWITC, A careful reading of the OP report, and drilling down on the assumptions, will show that Thayer-D is correct: there is ample room to grow before we are forced to go up (by changing the Height Act).
You will find that OP omits a lot of development from its calculations and overstates the amount of development needed to satisfy future development.

by OtherMike on Nov 7, 2013 4:45 pm • linkreport

I am open to a call to improve OPs calculations and better determine when build out will occur (though I do not think waiting until build out is imminent is the optimal strategy for changing the height act).

But I do not think that will make a huge difference, as long as we are not making very unrealistic assumptions like a full bore hausmanizing of the city (why today CM Graham suggested looking into regs to stop popups like the house on V Street - which means even some of the build out potential under todays FAR regulations may not be politically realistic.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Nov 7, 2013 4:52 pm • linkreport

"Perhaps many people would rather live in low-rise buildings in great neighborhoods. But the point is, such a situation is only possible if we allow tall buildings to be built nearby. Without that density, we don't get great neighborhoods--"

You're equating density with tall buildings (above the DC limit), which many a great neighborhoods don't back up. We all want vibrant neighborhoods, and we all want density. Some of us think that's achievable with-in the current 10-12 story envelope. Why not shoot for what seems to be the prefered housing type and keep what so many people have said they like about DC? There's plenty of space to expand the current downtown, for example, all of SW. And many cities have shown that multi nodal business centers don't hold back growth. So what's with the sky is falling talk?

by Thayer-D on Nov 7, 2013 4:52 pm • linkreport

"There's plenty of space to expand the current downtown, for example, all of SW. "

What are you counting as a buildable property in SW? The waterfront restaurants and parking lots are all targeted for the Wharf development, IIUC. There are a few more parking lots and I guess some old churches and other very underutilized buildings further inland.

Buzzards point is mostly vacant now, but is farther from metro, and will probably develop quickly after the soccer arena comes in. And it really isnt that big.

Greenleaf will probably be redeveloped as midrise (but I think 6 stories, not 12 - following hausmann too closely I guess).

But theres a lot you cant bring up to midrise - all the small townhouses there, and Ft McNair.

SW is an ideal example of a place where it would be good to get more density by building up on select parcels.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Nov 7, 2013 4:59 pm • linkreport

"And many cities have shown that multi nodal business centers don't hold back growth. So what's with the sky is falling talk?"

greater DC is alreay multinodal, and will continue to see growth in many places.

but again other than Paris where are the examples of a city that had no downtown hi rises and that densified by Hausmanizing instead?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Nov 7, 2013 5:00 pm • linkreport

"But theres a lot you cant bring up to midrise - all the small townhouses there, and Ft McNair."

Why can't you bring that up to mid-rise?

by Thayer-D on Nov 7, 2013 5:01 pm • linkreport

but again other than Paris where are the examples of a city that had no downtown hi rises and that densified by Hausmanizing instead?

A lot of German cities got to make that choice after their cities were flattened by WWII bombs. Munich notably, not coincidentally, Munich is a very expensive city to live in compared to other german cities.

by drumz on Nov 7, 2013 5:03 pm • linkreport

Few quick remarks:
@Thayer-D: OP did do a development analysis (linked to in the post). They've found that even if every inch of every "soft site" in town was redeveloped (that 4.9%), that wouldn't meet the space demands of a larger city. Hence, their very moderate proposal to tweak the street enclosure ratio a bit, removes the arbitrary 130' cap, and allow for the neighborhoods to adapt. It's not a radical "skyscraper" proposal at all.

Also, yes, developers make money, but they make plenty of money under the current regime. Trouble is, a lot of that money is being made by developers outside DC, e.g., Macerich poaching Intelsat's offices to Tysons because DC doesn't offer the quantity of space that they need, at the price that they need. If anything, increasing the supply of buildable space within DC will reduce rents and hurt incumbent developers, who currently can just sit back and collect eye-popping rents.

Not to mention that actually redeveloping that 4.9%, whether it's building mid-rises on vacant lots or pop-ups on rowhouses, causes great consternation all the time. Downtown development, away from voters' houses, is much easier to accomplish.

@Richard: not really, all of that industrial land is included in the 4.9% mentioned in the post.

@BTA: a good point that I was trying to make in the last few paragraphs.

@RLLayman: Thanks. OP's proposal opens the way for potential high-rises outside the core; Poplar Point, Pepco, and the Friendship Heights garage come to mind. Pepco is 50% larger than Rosslyn, for example.

by Payton on Nov 7, 2013 5:03 pm • linkreport

@Thayer-D: I don't mean to make this personal, but I really want to understand your point. If you find buildings taller than 10 stories so repulsive, why do you live in DTSS so close to much taller buildings? And why do you think so many other people want to live there as well, including in those tall buildings? Rents and housing prices certainly haven't gone down as more high rises have gone up in DTSS.

by Gray on Nov 7, 2013 5:09 pm • linkreport

"But theres a lot you cant bring up to midrise - all the small townhouses there, and Ft McNair."
"Why can't you bring that up to mid-rise?"

Fort Mcnair is DoD property, and is historic. I dont think redeveloping it is realistic.

The small townhouses could of course all be torn down and rebuilt to mid rise - by a planner backed by Louis Napoleon. In DC though, that will elicit a rebellion.

Right now those blocks are leafy and high liveability - much like parts of Brooklyn. They are low slung - in fact I daresay when people here say the city is low slung that is MUCH more what they have in mind than the whether buildings on Conn Avenue are 130 ft or 200 ft.

Suppose we put it up to vote - the OP plan vs the neo-Hausmann plan. I have little doubt that most voters would prefer a few more stories in skyscraper districts than tearing down liveable TH neighborhoods to get 10 story midrises. (the folks who support the height limit now do so because they do NOT think what you are asking for will be necessary).

by AWalkerInTheCity on Nov 7, 2013 5:12 pm • linkreport

@Thayer-D, this is how many of my neighbors in Southwest feel about development. I welcome any and all assistance that you can offer.

by Payton on Nov 7, 2013 5:14 pm • linkreport

@Payton, The OP development analysis and attachment are on the NCPC web-site, along with public comments discussing major problems with that analysis. Take a closer look at the assumptions and the calculations. It doesn’t actually show what you (and they) claim. And you don’t have to change the Height Act to have substantial development at some of the sites you listed, nor do you have to change the Comp Plan, but they weren’t included in OP’s capacity analysis. It didn’t include Walter Reed either.

by OtherMike on Nov 7, 2013 5:16 pm • linkreport

that analysis was mostly focused on the feasibility of taller buildings, and going into detail on their economics (as well as their aesthetics). Their are insufficient details on the buildout analysis, perhaps because OP did not expect that to become the central issue- and its still not clear that it IS the central issue, as quite a few height act defenders are not displeased with the notion of pushing development into Virginia, some are unconvinced there will be continued growth, etc.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Nov 7, 2013 5:28 pm • linkreport

@OtherMike: Yes, I did read the analysis, and I did note that only at the top end of the forecast did DC actually "run out of space." That said, I find it rather unlikely that every single foot of Kennedy St., or the Kenilworth expressway, will be redeveloped with 14th St.-style mid-rises anytime soon. That is one assumption that OP makes, and which "mid-rise everywhere" advocates also make.

by Payton on Nov 7, 2013 5:31 pm • linkreport

it appears to me that OP made a number of simplifying assumptions - like looking at Comp plan high density areas but not low density areas, and setting a rule that 30% build out parcels were not capable of further development.

To fully look at all parcels in low density areas, and to analyze the economics (often challenging) of 30% built out parcels would would require a major investment of analytic resources. OP has other tasks, is only asking for a home rule right for DC to make its own decisions, and is asking for something that makes economic sense aside from buildout - and buildout will come eventually anyway. How much analysis is worth it (I note some commenters give their own Sq ft numbers, but the sources are not transparent afaict).

I welcome height act defenders asking the federal govt to fund a more extensive, more detailed build out analysis.

Thats not what I see happening, I see cold water thrown on OPs analysis. At a time when both housing prices are very high and office rents are much higher than in competing suburban jurisdictions

by AWalkerInTheCity on Nov 7, 2013 5:38 pm • linkreport

It is rare for a city to even have to undergo an utterly unrealistic "full build-out scenario" analysis. I know of no situation nationally where full FAR has been maximized throughout an entire city, or where doing so would be a necessary precursor before even beginning to consider changing an arbitrary limit

To put this into perspective, the 110-story Sears Tower does not max out its zoning (under the zoning in place at the time). Even within DC, many local development projects outside downtown (the Wharf, Fort Totten, most of the new buildings around H St.) build far below their maximum allowed FAR, and yet again, still the neighbors wail about how their world will end posthaste.

by Payton on Nov 7, 2013 5:40 pm • linkreport

Can we please stop assuming that anyone who is against changing the height restriction is some Co100 NIMBY? I'm a big proponent of the limit but also am very pro-growth; they can work together. The problem is that DC needs to commit investment in mobility and connectivity so that denser development along arterials such as H and Georgia can absorb significant amounts of demand and improve access to Downtown and other neighborhoods.

I wouldn't be against an easing of the restriction in Friendship Heights, Anacostia or other peripheral areas, but there's no need to do so in the center of the city. We don't have the infrastructure to handle it, and we'd need to build that out in line with any further increase in density (looking at you, separate Blue Line). DC can function as a poly centric city, but currently doesn't have the infrastructure to do so. Let's ensure that zoning is not even more restrictive than the height limit, which it is even on major thoroughfares. That could go a very long way.

by Phil on Nov 7, 2013 5:40 pm • linkreport

also OP knocked down buildout by 25% for parcel specific factors. AFAICT thats not unrealistic DESPITE the occasional offseting waiver. Commenters were I think unduly certain that the waiver process is easy.

If waivers are easy than the hausmanization scenario is realistic. I dont think they happen at every parcel even when OP wants to support them - their is not always an economically realistic alternative.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Nov 7, 2013 5:41 pm • linkreport

but there's no need to do so in the center of the city

Yes there is because that's where demand is greatest and you'll see the greatest transit mode share.

and we'd need to build that out in line with any further increase in density (looking at you, separate Blue Line)

The separated blue line would be a huge investment in downtown. I don't know how you'd design it so it would benefit some fringe area more than downtown.

by drumz on Nov 7, 2013 5:44 pm • linkreport

Not like Paris? Wasn't it Paris that pioneered the high-rise approach with La Defense?

by Omar on Nov 7, 2013 5:44 pm • linkreport

Follow up,

That is to say, we wouldn't need a separate blue line (not in the way most envision it: running through georgetown and M street generally)if we were to go whole hog on poplar point or something like that. We would need something much more significant than the Anacostia streetcar for Poplar Point but I don't know of any plans from any sort of official planning group about that.

by drumz on Nov 7, 2013 5:47 pm • linkreport

@ Thayer-D

Help me understand precisely the work you want OP to do to prove that the City might need higher density over let's say the next 50 years? I'm not knocking your support of smart growth, it just sounds a lot like what NIMBYs say when they oppose something. "Let's study it more, or there is no data."

There is no data that can prove we need the density. It is just not provable. So it gets down to whether we might want to be able to manage this resource in the future, when the time comes to do so. If we don't remove the Height Act, and it turns out we do need the density, what then?

BTW: great piece - I learned something.

by fongfong on Nov 7, 2013 5:49 pm • linkreport

@Omar
"Not like Paris? Wasn't it Paris that pioneered the high-rise approach with La Defense?"
When will people realize that La Defense isn't in Paris? It is in a town outside of Paris just like Rosslyn

by TyGr on Nov 7, 2013 6:05 pm • linkreport

@Drumz

Yes but the "mall" in Philadelphia was much prettier before they allowed skyscrapers around it, I think we can all agree on that. The link you posted I have seen before, and I think NCPC was very nice when they made these. Could you imagine that instead of that being yellow squares they were ugly gray squares with terrible architecture? It would completely detract from the monuments.

by TyGr on Nov 7, 2013 6:11 pm • linkreport

Was it? I've never seen it.

And I think if someone photoshoppedhthe buildings to lookalike and presented them as-is a great number of people would to be able to tell that the buildings are 200 feet instead of 130

by Drumz on Nov 7, 2013 6:44 pm • linkreport

"Not to mention that actually redeveloping that 4.9%, whether it's building mid-rises on vacant lots or pop-ups on rowhouses, causes great consternation all the time. Downtown development, away from voters' houses, is much easier to accomplish."

So only 4.9% of this city is able to be developed? Talk about freezing the city in amber. I'm a strong Historic Preservationist advocate, albeit one who would advocate building up historic neighborhoods with sympathetic infill, but I find it incredible that the Office of Planning would make such a statement. It flies in the face of the history of urbanism where by cities where built-up over time. Urban planning by avoiding "great consternation"! Burnham's 'Make no small plans' becomes, 'Ruffle no feathers'.

We are woefully behind on mass transit. We know this and yet rather than allowing development to spread out with-in DC while we push for this much needed transit, we shed a tear for gentrification's victims, all the while talking about housing all the new comers. Are we advocating a tale of two cities, where the new migrants crowd in a high rise center while we freeze outlying neighborhoods in their current state because it causes "great consternation"?

That doesn't seem like the best way to plan for growth, to simply concentrate it in one place. Whatever happened to mixed use neighborhoods? It used to be one of the holy grails of smart growth.

by Thayer-D on Nov 7, 2013 9:13 pm • linkreport

@TyGr
When will people realize that La Defense isn't in Paris? It is in a town outside of Paris just like Rosslyn

For the last time, when will people realize municipality borders don't mean anything, they are invisible lines, thought up by bureaucrats. They don't determine anything except where you pay your property taxes and what regulations you have to follow. Paris is a urban agglomeration, Washington DC is an urban agglomeration, try to look at the big picture and how they all interact, don't stick you head in the sand and say the actions of the 87% that live suburban in the DC CSA don't effect the core city be it Paris or DC. La Defense is about 4 miles from the eiffel tower, but yeah, nobody ever crosses the invisible line in the sand.

by Bill on Nov 7, 2013 9:33 pm • linkreport

What dictators caused Dusseldorf, Amsterdam, Berlin, Dresden, Prague, Madrid, Barcelona, Rome, Florence, Milan, and hundreds of other European cities to decide horizontal and not vertical was the best way to go? And what high-rises in central London?? They're banned there too. They're in Canary Wharf in East London.

For that matter what dictator since 1877 has prevented high rises in historic Paris? Chirac? Mitterrand? The current most vocal opponent of high rises even in outer Paris is the Green Party because high rises are so environmentally destructive.

The American cookie-cutter mold of high rises in the center in every clone burg, not just NYC, leads to towers-in-the-slums, with a very few prestige towers and miles of undeveloped areas around them.

European cities realize that horizontal growth with older central mansions divided into multiple units is the way to get greater density. (Many of those 6-story buildings in Paris were formerly much larger units). DC's limit of 2 units per building in R-4 and 4 per unit in R-5 in the central core is ridiculous.

But there's no money for the big developers in those conversions. Their money comes from forcing all new development into a few new high-rises. And their mindless shills keep coming up with these dumb excuses why it's the only way to get density.

by Tom Coumaris on Nov 7, 2013 11:10 pm • linkreport

European cities realize that horizontal growth with older central mansions divided into multiple units is the way to get greater density.

Except for Moscow, London, Frankfurt, Vienna, Madrid, Istanbul, Warsaw, Courbevoie, Wroclaw, Yekaterinburg, Malmo, Baku, Benidorm, Sarajevo, Manchester, Turin, Puteaz, Saint-Denis, Rotterdam, Lyon, Bilbao, Bonn, Benidorm, Kiev, Birmingham, and Mersin,

Even from your list, Barcelona, Rome, Milan, Madrid (and yes Paris) all have skyscrapers the tallest of which, the Torre Caja Madrid, is 820 feet tall.

And Berlin, Amsterdam and Prague (at least) all have buildings taller than DC's Height limit. As probably does just about any city in Europe. Even if you don't think we should have skyscrapers, at least we could have buildings as tall as Amsterdam's 492 foot tall Rembrandt Tower without ignoring the lesson that Europe "realized."

by David C on Nov 7, 2013 11:51 pm • linkreport

Great article!

Skyscraper zones at the 2 best rail hubs, DC Union Station and L'Enfant Plaza are by fare, to the maximum possible safe height, establishes the best expert labor market for the entire DC region, with lowest commute costs and lowest carbon foot prints per commute. Incremental increases such as adding only 5 or 10 floors to office towers in these future skyscraper zones is a very expensive non-starter, requiring removal of extremely expensive short buildings at each upgrade, and delays all improvements to density on the multiple rail line spokes of these rail hubs. Building out these hub zones to the maximum safe height, e.g. 800 feet tall or taller, one building at a time, creates the best possible labor market so people, such as couples, can safely buy homes near the rail spokes, and now even if their employer changes for any reason, they live near the best labor markets for the entire region, where they can meet and work with anyone from the entire greater DC region.

Going straight to a limited number of tallest possible skyscrapers would generate massive direct on-going extremely efficient economic activity, as well as massive improvement to the city tax base without changing tax rates, helping fund all DC public education, and major infrastructure improvements, such as adding new rail lines and services, such as ideally connecting all existing major tower block areas in the city currently not served by Metro rail, to these downtown skyscraper zones. The city would only add new towers as the current existing towers saturate with tenants.

The article and its quotes on this page are precisely why the current height limit policy without skyscrapers is so unwise. Although I think we will eventually happily Manhattanize, because in 1811 Manhattan copied the DC street grid of 1801, and Manhattan demonstrates exactly what freer markets can do with its real estate development. I am still questioning someone's comment on the previous article page on the DC height limit policy, demanding that we retain the height maximum limit, so that all current and historical buildings in the city are demolished, for new Paris style density short apartments, rather than using skyscraper zones and Metro stop focused development, to maximize the density of the city, but only where our population have the best access at opportunity, measured in terms of time, energy, and cash (ticket) cost, while retaining as much of the character and historical buildings as possible for as long as possible into the future without punishing opportunity.

by Nathaniel Pendleton on Nov 8, 2013 4:00 am • linkreport

Clearly the choice should be made by the residence of the District but what is likely is that Congress will make the changes based on the Mayor’s letter without consulting DC residents. The trouble is most District residents do not come from here and have no intention on staying. Their temporal decisions that may be suited for a generic city may ruin what the District has wrought these last few centuries. Let’s find a way to have a more natural skyline that doesn’t simply include these seven features: The Washington Monument, the Old Post Office Building, the Cathedral, the Shine at the Immaculate Conception, the Cairo, the twin Franklin Square cones, and the blob known as Roslyn. They all tower above the skyline datum and quite capriciously dominate the city skyline. As we must be smarter and make more use of the city to move to far greater regional sustainability we must use the city for more work, live, and play. Well crafted taller buildings approved by BOTH the CFA and NCPC should be considered and the eastern two-thirds of the District developed to a much greater level. Blanket increases in height and density without these real controls will create a place few people would call beautiful.

by AndrewJ on Nov 8, 2013 6:11 am • linkreport

Barcelona, Rome, Milan, Madrid (and yes Paris) all have skyscrapers the tallest of which, the Torre Caja Madrid, is 820 feet tall.

Yes they all have skyscrapers, but they are few and far between, in no way comparable to the typical American cluster of skyscrapers like Philly, NYC, Houston, etc. If you've visited those cities and many more and come back saying, 'Now that's a nice skyscraper skyline' then you didn't visit the cities I know. So allow a hand full here and there? The amount of extra sq. footage those towers provide to their overall mix is negligable, yet they seem to keep growing. How does that square with the "end of growth" argument that is often cited?

One difference is they actually build good infrastructure (except Rome) and plan for growth without quaking in thier boots every time a developer says "you're killing me!"They allow for more density without running scared when the lawyers say 'Not in my back yard!'. And many of those cities annex surrounding areas to be able to plan for them in a rational sense. I understand that this is unlikely, especially since they can't seem to figure out how to give DC residents the right to representation (I will never get that), but that dosen't deny the fact that this region works as one economic engine and should be thought of it that way. People say companies will leave DC becasuse there are no more lot's to build on...really? Companies will routinely play jurisdictions off against eachother for the best tax deal. Many locate in other centers becasue there are actually a few college graduates living outside DC's boundaries. When Discovery moved to Silver Spring, Montgomery County lurred them to spark the change they wanted to see in Silver Spring... and it happened. Now the prices have shot up and long time residents got pushed out, which sucks, but any change will have concequences. So MC is pushing for the Purple line which many say will price out more low income people. Is DC worried that this line will lure more development away from DC? No, instead they are talking about shorting the proposed streetcar line to keep it in DC because negotiations are difficult. Come on.

Only 4.9 % of DC is re-developable? This shows a lack of imagination, political will, and forsight.

by Thayer-D on Nov 8, 2013 6:21 am • linkreport

While the apartment buildings of Central Paris generally look great, they mean block after block of extremely similar buildings.

by Bill on Nov 8, 2013 7:11 am • linkreport

I agree with that observation Bill. To my eye, the variation in styles and heights of most older American cities is much more picturesque. It also seems to reflect the heterogeneous nature of our society and the more free market conditions in which it arose. In short, it reflects our love of individuality.

This is problematic when developers gobble up a whole block, but some kind of form codes could be used to mitigate the worst aspects of this. City Center has the potential of doing this, but we'll soon see how effective it is.

by Thayer-D on Nov 8, 2013 7:44 am • linkreport

Agreed with Bill and Thayer-D .

Let's face it, even beside the point of livability, walk ability and density, DC's skyline when viewed from afar sucks. Aside from the US Capitol, and Washington monument, there is very little iconic architecture to view from afar in DC. Keep the Mall green but let the rest of the city reach for the stars. I'd take a Singapore skyline over DC's skyline any day of the week. In my lifetime I'd like to see a DC skyscraper breach at least the 1000 foot barrier.

On a related note does anybody ever see the edge cities of Rosslyn, Tysons Corner, Crystal City, Silver Spring as usurping DC's downtown as the preeminent central business district in the region?

by Hawk on Nov 8, 2013 8:39 am • linkreport

It is a bit neat that you can see the Washington Monument from some houses on hills in the city. But the views that people really like (e.g. from the Capitol to the Monument to Jefferson/Lincoln) are not under threat from tall buildings.

It would actually be kind of cool if the old stone monument was juxtaposed with modern skyscrapers in our skyline.

by MLD on Nov 8, 2013 8:53 am • linkreport

"Yes they all have skyscrapers, but they are few and far between"

And we couuld do that in DC. Limit the number of parcels that you can build tall on. That addresses a number of issues.

As for the Washington Monument, I mean really? Its a geometric form, with no decoration. If it were built in Rosslyn, folks like Thayer would be explaining whats wrong with it. Its also surrounded by a big grassy plaza, with little retail. Much like the Rosslyn towers, its not much of a ped experience, but looks best from a considerable distance. Hell, people like it BETTER with scaffolding on it - what does that tell you?

I am not saying it should be torn down, or the views of it down the major view corridors should be blocked. But should a structure like that determine the form of the skyline?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Nov 8, 2013 9:06 am • linkreport

Anecdote time!

One time I somehow ended up at the Skydome restaurant at the double tree in Crystal city. That's where I became convinced that we'd be ok without a height limit. It's not much further out than the airforce memorial and the only building of real prominence is the Washington monument. If we doubled the height limit tomorrow DC's tallest buildings would still be less than half the height of the monument.

by drumz on Nov 8, 2013 9:10 am • linkreport

So allow a hand full here and there? The amount of extra sq. footage those towers provide to their overall mix is negligable, yet they seem to keep growing. How does that square with the "end of growth" argument that is often cited?

You keep throwing out that "end of growth" strawman, but the funny thing is that you're the only one using that phrase. DC will continue to grow with or without the height limit and no one is saying otherwise, so can you please stop acting like they are? It's disingenuous.

But, the growth with the height limit will be less than without it. Because some growth will go to the suburbs instead, and some will just not happen at all. That's what people are talking about.

People say companies will leave DC becasuse there are no more lot's to build on...really?

At the margin, I'm sure some will. Many government agencies already have and FBI probably will too. Do you believe that there will be exactly the same number of businesses in DC in 30 years with the height limit as without...really?

Only 4.9 % of DC is re-developable?

Another disingenuous misquote. "The sum of remaining developable land in the city amounts to 4.9%" is the quote. I'm sure you understand the difference between developable land and re-developable land, without me having to explain it, right? But if you think that number is off, I would be more easily convinced by a list of land you think is developable and it's acreage than by your guffawing.

by David C on Nov 8, 2013 9:45 am • linkreport

Limit the number of parcels that you can build tall on. That addresses a number of issues.

Until those parcels have been built up, and then we'll have this discussion all over again. The question is what's the best long term strategy, and allowing piece meal high rises won't absorb the amount of growth you say is necessary not to harm the economy. Saying that only 4.9% of land is open to redevelopment while calling the height restriction an harmful regulation seems contradictory at best.

As for the Washington Monument, I mean really? Its a geometric form, with no decoration. If it were built in Rosslyn, folks like Thayer would be explaining whats wrong with it.

The monunent is one large decoration on the city's landscape. Mies decorated his Seagrams with copper I-beams on the facade. The stone work on a blank facade can be decorative if well done. It's more a question of how well it reads in the landscape than what particular style it is, which is where you keep wanting to steer the conversation. 1930-40's Tel Aviv is all Bauhaus, and it looks terrific, becasue early modernism retained some of the massing play that disapeared in the sheer for profit boxes that came to dominate modernism in the 1950's. But the fact that you don't understand or seem to value aesthetics doesn't make it irrelevant to those whom it is important, and consequently important to place making in smart growth.

by Thayer-D on Nov 8, 2013 9:47 am • linkreport

David C,
the end of growth was coined by AWITC in a fit of frustration. I use it as short hand for the ills the height limit seems to be imposing on our local economy.

"Another disingenuous misquote. "The sum of remaining developable land in the city amounts to 4.9%" is the quote."

Fair enough, but what's disingenuous is to throw this number out instead of how much land is available for growth, regardless of it being vacant or under-developed.

"But if you think that number is off, I would be more easily convinced by a list of land you think is developable and it's acreage than by your guffawing."

Honestly, I and many others have pointed out this list (of developable and under-deveolped land) many times before. How's being disengenuous now?

by Thayer-D on Nov 8, 2013 9:52 am • linkreport

But, the growth with the height limit will be less than without it. Because some growth will go to the suburbs instead, and some will just not happen at all. That's what people are talking about.

And we cannot fool ourselves into thinking that no physical growth means we won't see huge economic changes.

Increased demand and a fixed supply means one thing: rising prices.

It's an exclusionairy mindset that pervades the discussion, and unfortunately the nature of the exclusion is aided by the status quo (regulations in place right now to limit us from building more city when there is demand for more city).

by Alex B. on Nov 8, 2013 10:04 am • linkreport

And we cannot fool ourselves into thinking that no physical growth means we won't see huge economic changes.

I'm glad we cleared that up.

by Thayer-D on Nov 8, 2013 10:09 am • linkreport

"the end of growth was coined by AWITC in a fit of frustration. I use it as short hand for the ills the height limit seems to be imposing on our local economy. "

There are multiple ills - 1. the costs imposed by artificially making growth less concentrated than it would otherwise be - these include both the cost to residents and office users of not locating where they want to be as evidenced by market prices (lest call that 1A) - and the societal costs from higher SOV mode share (1B) 2. The cost to DC from more growth going to suburban jurisdictions short even before buld out 3. The costs of growth going to the suburbs instead of DC AT buildout

I have focused on 1B and on 3. 1A in particular is more difficult to explain, and gets us into abstruse and ideological discussions of markets and their role. 2 is similarly debatable as we get into the motivations of would be residents and office users.

3 is a clearly tangible limit. And one that OP chooses to focus on as well. 1B in my opinion is important to people beyond the citizens of DC - thayer doesnt generally discuss it though. We did have one commenter who simply dismissed the notion that transit commuters dont like to transfer - his personal preferences overriding decades of transit ridership studies. Thayer seems to believe that its easy to fund the kinds of transit infra that would make peripheral locations the equivalent in SOV mode share of downtown DC.

I believe that all these factors matter - the buildout date matters, but due to the other factors as well as the foregone opportunity from filling parcels at below their future new height, it does not make sense to wait till that buildout date is imminent.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Nov 8, 2013 10:10 am • linkreport

"The monunent is one large decoration on the city's landscape"

Thats exactly what Rosslyn is - and I would daresay Rosslyn looks at least as good from a distance. If someone were proposing the Washington Monument NOW, I don't think any neotrad arch fans would support it. Its valued because its old and accepted.

As for the White City in Tel Aviv-Jaffa, the municipal authories there have never used it as a basis for limitiing height in downtown TA (or in other neighborhoods around TA.

As for aesthetics, I certainly do value it. I just don't share ALL your views on it (actually our views are fairly close - for the most part I like the kinds of buildings and streetscapes you like - however in addition to a greater fondness for bauhaus modernism, I also am very concerned with economic considerations, transportation considerations, and political feasibility)

by AWalkerInTheCity on Nov 8, 2013 10:17 am • linkreport

I would also note one problem with assuming build out to max FAR in low density areas.

In many cases those are SF row houses - to reach max FAR would mean building a multi story pop-up (such as the notorious one on V Street). In many cases the owner of the rowhouse simply does not want to build such a popout - the dont like the look, they dont want the disruption, they dont want to become a landlord or move.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Nov 8, 2013 10:19 am • linkreport

"Are we advocating a tale of two cities, where the new migrants crowd in a high rise center while we freeze outlying neighborhoods in their current state because it causes "great consternation"?"

no we are arguing for enough new density downtown to relieve some of the pressure on older midrises in central DC, so less affluent people can stay in them - and we can also move less affluent people into the new hirises downtown via IZ.

but even if we were talking a tale of two cites as you suggest - would that be worse than one city, entirely affluent from city limit to city limit?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Nov 8, 2013 10:26 am • linkreport

"Until those parcels have been built up, and then we'll have this discussion all over again. The question is what's the best long term strategy, and allowing piece meal high rises won't absorb the amount of growth you say is necessary not to harm the economy."

the current limit was adopted 90 years ago. I dont think having the discussion every five years is in the cards. At all. yes, we will almost certainly have to reexamine things in 30 years. Maybe 25 years. What exactly is the cost of revisiting the discussion?

and note, we do NOT need to rebuild each BUILDING a few stories taller each time - by limiting extra height to less built out parcels (via mandate or via auction) we can insure that at each go round a limited number of buildings are rebuilt, but each one at a more stories than the difference between the current and new height limits.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Nov 8, 2013 10:29 am • linkreport

"But the fact that you don't understand"

Im sorry, I didnt attend a five year arch school.

Somehow the elitism of the bauhaus modernists seems to transcend that particular school of architecture. The aesthetic wisdom of the unlearned is fine and all when they like traditional architecture, but when they LIKE things that they arent supposed to like, they dont understand aesthetics.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Nov 8, 2013 10:32 am • linkreport

Until those parcels have been built up, and then we'll have this discussion all over again. The question is what's the best long term strategy

This is very weak concern. When things are built up or close to it, then we can review the issue. But your argument seems to be that unless we can come up with a policy that will work forever and ever, then we should stick with the status quo. What's wrong with a policy that will "only" work for 30-50 years?

by David C on Nov 8, 2013 10:47 am • linkreport

the end of growth was coined by AWITC in a fit of frustration.

Really? Where? I just did a search on the website for it, and the ONLY person using it is you.

I use it as short hand for the ills the height limit seems to be imposing on our local economy.

Oh, so you use a deceptive overstatement - in quotes - to refer to a legitimate claim. That's totally honest.

Honestly, I and many others have pointed out this list (of developable and under-deveolped land) many times before. How's being disengenuous now?

Not me. Is that list on this thread? Have I read that list? Am I expected to read every comment on every thread on every blog? If you've done it before, then just link to it.

by David C on Nov 8, 2013 10:55 am • linkreport

Excellent article. Maybe there are reasons to keep the height limit. But, to stay like Paris isn’t one of them.

Unfortunately, at the end of the day, the debate doesn’t really matter. DC doesn't aspire to be a grand capital city. This is still at heart the proverbial "small southern town." DC is a mid-sized city in the heart of sprawling region.

It will never be a grand world city like Paris or New York or even a major urban center like Chicago, Toronto, or Berlin. Nobody will ever say “When a man is tired of DC, he is tired of life.” This is a city of quiet streets and a few restaurant rows. Not cramped apartments and pulsating street life.

Prior to 1950, DC was a mid-size city in a mid-size region. Then from 1950 to 2000, the region exploded. However, the city proper declined by 25%. By 2000, DC was an irrelevant share of the region’s population.

Since 2000, the city has revitalized and grown. But, it has just kept pace with the region, it hasn’t made up any of the market share it lost from 1950-2000.

Going forward, DC proper will see more of the same: infill in NoMa, Capital Riverfront, and along a couple main streets. Down the road, we may see more development in Hill East, McMillian, Walter Reed, etc.

But, the heavy lifting of housing the region will fall to the suburbs. DC the MSA will probably add another 1 million people over the next 15-20 years. 90% of them will live in the suburbs.

LA is our model. We have a little more of a traditional “niche” urban core and LA is more consistently dense (10,000-20,000 pps). But at the end of the day, both are sprawling multi-nodal regions with many walkable sub nodes. Neither will ever resemble the grand urbanism of traditional cities, but both will function in their own way.

by chris on Nov 8, 2013 11:37 am • linkreport

Chris,

"the end of growth was coined by AWITC in a fit of frustration.
Really? Where? I just did a search on the website for it, and the ONLY person using it is you.

Why don't you ask him?

by Thayer-D on Nov 8, 2013 11:47 am • linkreport

@Chris: LA is our model?!? Not even close! LA has 17 buildings taller than the Washington Monument (555 feet), most just south west of main rail hub, LA Union Station, but also in Century City, well west of downtown, closer to Beverly Hills, and similar places.

A Wikipedia page list 34 buildings taller than 400 feet.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_tallest_buildings_in_Los_Angeles

by Nathaniel Pendleton on Nov 8, 2013 12:00 pm • linkreport

I also searched. Thayer used the phrase, and I only used it in quoting Thayer.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Nov 8, 2013 12:08 pm • linkreport

If the political hurdle for A) raising the height limit and B) for changing the zoning code to allow for mid rise buildings in many of the single family neighborhoods? Which would you choose and why? If both, why?

by sk on Nov 8, 2013 12:32 pm • linkreport

Insert - If the political hurdle were the same for option A and option B.

by sk on Nov 8, 2013 12:33 pm • linkreport

DC proper's population has declined from above 900,000 during World War II (acording to US Federal Reserve St. Louis data), to just above 800,000 in the 1950 US Census, to 572,000 in the 2000 US Census. Meanwhile regional population in the roughly same 55 years, DC core regional population (DC, Arlington, Alexandria, Fairfax, Fairfax city, Falls Church, Montgomery, and Prince Georges County, has increased almost 4 fold from roughly 1 million during World War II, to 3.72 million in the 2000 US Census.

This means DC proper population declined more than 36%, or DC proper's population would have to grow more than 57% back to World War II peak population.

If DC proper had the population density of Brooklyn, DC alone would have a population of roughly 2.16 million people. If DC had a population density of Manhattan, the city which most directly copied DC's efficient 1801 street grid plan, ten years after DC, called the (NYC) Commissioner's plan of 1811, DC would have a population 4.3 million people.

The thing DC needs most, as a city and marketplace for expert labor, serving DC's own people, and the region's people, is massive efficient use of the downtown rail hubs. Skyscraper zones to the maximum (tallest) safe height, would build that market, and force common sense density of opportunity, through scale of opportunity, shortest commute times, most efficient commutes in terms of both energy per commuter and maximum number of commuters served with any time circle radius commute (e.g. how many people can reach a skyscraper zone in 30 minutes, or 1 hour).

The purpose of tallest possible skyscrapers next to best rail hubs is to minimize the walking time to/from the trains to the skyscraper elevators, which maximizes the number of people served (the scale of the market), and use the elevators as private railways, greatly expanding efficient carless transit.

New York City and countless other cities, such as as Chicago, LA, Boston, Philadelphia, London, and on an on, use this style of efficient market place to be competitive, attracting best and brightest.

Why use efficiency and scale? Bitter people would say it is only about money, but that is counter productive, because it is about maximizing opportunity, and minimizing negative externalities, such as traffic, time wasted in traffic, opportunity missed completely, maximizing economic activity to expand expensive to build but inexpensive to use rail mass transit such as buried subway lines, for faster and more efficient commuter, and public education.

What does this scale of opportunity do? Well if the value of market is measured as the number of possible links between 2 people in a market, for any transaction or interaction, such as employment, education, entertainment, dating and mating, food and beverage, shopping, and services, the math is quite simple, that bigger markets are much much better.

If you increase the number of people who can reach a market, such as in a 30 minute commute time circle, such as by developing the rail hubs with best existing spokes to more neighborhoods, and more people, the opportunity grows at the squaring exponent of the total population with access. Measuring the opportunity with link counting formula, says if you multiply the population with 30 minute commutes to skyscraper zone/rail hub by 10, the opportunity is multiplied by 100. The opportunity measuring link counting formula, if population is "N", is ((N^2)-N)/2. So a population of 100,000 in a 30 minute commute time distance, from the hub, has a market with opportunity of two person transactions of 4,999,950,000 (or about 5 trillion possible links). If you multiple that population living in 30 minutes from the hub by 10, to 1,000,000 people, the 2 person link opportunity is 100 times larger, or 499,999,500,000, (or about 500 trillion possible links).

This means that any increase in population with access as measured by commute time radius, squares the opportunity.

We need the skyscrapers at best rail hubs to maximize square footage that close to the efficient rail hubs. We need the elevators to minimize cost of cars, very expensive to own, fuel, protect the fuel with the US Military (more than $5 US spending on the Military for every gallon of oil used in the US, so the real energy price is above $8 per gallon of gas), and even more expensive in terms of traffic wasting time of the best and brightest, and parking structures in direct cost and lowering population density at an employment hub.

by Nathaniel Pendleton on Nov 8, 2013 12:42 pm • linkreport

Metro has 100 stations. Few of them are used for employment or residential hubs and those few like Farragut are over-burdened with no relief in sight.

Indeed let's put development at Metro hubs, just not the same few over and over.

by Tom Coumaris on Nov 8, 2013 12:51 pm • linkreport

Nathaniel,

I think you are taking what I said to literally.

I meant DC and LA are similar in that both are largely suburban regions with lots of little walkable nodes. Santa Monica, Hollywood, Silver Lake, etc. That is pretty much how the DC region is growing Tysons, Reston, Bethesda, No. Bethesda, Rockville, etc. Basically, small urban zones surounded by subrban SFH areas.

We will never have an centralized urban core like Chicago where we have almost 3 million people living at densities of 12,000 ppsm. To say nothing of a NYC or European style city, where you have a concentrated core of millions of people living in densely packed apartment buildings.

by chris on Nov 8, 2013 12:51 pm • linkreport

Tom,

Farragut is a hub. It's got two stations on soon to be 4 lines. And it's only 1 or 2 stops from transferring to the yellow/green line.

by drumz on Nov 8, 2013 12:55 pm • linkreport

We will never have an centralized urban core like Chicago where we have almost 3 million people living at densities of 12,000 ppsm.

12,000 people per square mile? We already hit that level of density in multiple DC neighborhoods. Rowhouse areas will hit that easily.

As far as Centrality goes, don't forget about office: DC's core (e.g. downtown) is far more dominant in the region than anything in LA.

by Alex B. on Nov 8, 2013 1:10 pm • linkreport

@Nathaniel Pendleton

Wow, a fantastically succinct summarization of sound economic principles. Although I would quibble a bit about the perceived high cost of automobile ownership. Nevertheless you have my vote, bring on the mile high towers at Union Station!

by Hawk on Nov 8, 2013 1:11 pm • linkreport

Chris,
Where? I just did a search on the website for it, and the ONLY person using it is you
AWITC
I also searched. Thayer used the phrase, and I only used it in quoting Thayer.

This is what you (AWITC) said on the Breakfast links:All the Possibilities of Oct29th at 10:34am

The more likely result of keeping the height limit in DC, given political reality, is that it will mean an end to growth in DC when buildout (under OPs assumptions) is reached, and that all further growth will be in the suburbs.

by Thayer-D on Nov 8, 2013 1:17 pm • linkreport

Right, an end to growth when buildout is reached. Isn't that the definition of buildout? Do you think there will be growth after buildout is reached?

by David C on Nov 8, 2013 1:40 pm • linkreport

"12,000 people per square mile? We already hit that level of density in multiple DC neighborhoods. Rowhouse areas will hit that easily."

Yeah, but we don't sustain that density like Chicago does across an area that is serval times larger than DC proper. Chicago is only modestly denser than DC on average, but it blows us out of the water on scale.

Compare the share of the DC metro area vs. Chicago that lives in an centralized area of a given density (12,000, 20,000, or 30,000 ppsm). Chicago is going to be much more urban.

by chris on Nov 8, 2013 1:41 pm • linkreport

Here's a great letter supporting the height limit in 1905.

it is the opinion of most students of sanitary conditions that the average lifetime, at least the effective lifetime, of all those obliged to do business in or near the skyscapper [sic] of New York will, on account of this , be lessened by from ten to fifteen years. This form of building deprives men of sunlight, fresh air, and unimpeded sewage. It empties such crowds upon the streets that one cannot elbow his way through them without distinct consciousness of nervous strain, nor, at the end of a wearisome day, find a street car in which he must not breathe foul air.

I believe that all of this writer's concerns have been demonstrated by history to be without merit. For example, there is plenty of unimpeded sewage in DC - especially at Capitol Hill.

by David C on Nov 8, 2013 1:46 pm • linkreport

Right, an end to growth when buildout is reached. Isn't that the definition of buildout? Do you think there will be growth after buildout is reached?

It was refering to Harriet Tregoning's definition of build out being when the 4.9% of vacant land is built up. Do you not consider re-developing a two story row house or a one story retail strip growth? How about all the open land that was a result of suburban style building configuration?

by Thayer-D on Nov 8, 2013 1:49 pm • linkreport

IIRC OPs build out analysis included redevelopment of retail strips in medium and high density zones that are not close to the strips max FAR.

as for two story rowhouses, I do not think all of them will popped up. The owners are not necessarily developers, but owner occupiers who may forego monetary considerations to keep living in the same house the same way.

I have seen evidence that OPs build out analysis has not dotted every I or crossed every T.

I do not see evidence that its not in the ball park - the claims that its not seem to be based on unrealistic assumptions and are put forward by folks (a commenter from Friendship Heights) who really should know better.

But again, I would not object if proponents of the height limit lobbied congress to fund a much more detailed buildout analysis that fleshed out all these assumptions, estimated likelihood and consequences (including aesthetic consequences, preferably using the same drab grey blocks that were used to illustrate the height limit changes).

I dont think Ive seen that though.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Nov 8, 2013 2:06 pm • linkreport

@Hawk: Car commuting is the single most expensive mode of transportation per minute and per mile, in a city seeking to maximize opportunity. Increase the population to a single hub, only using cars, causes increased traffic delays, shrinking the population in a time radius of the employment hub. This means cars are counter productive. Cars cost more per mile than any other mode of transportation properly and realistically implemented. The more cars one adds to an employment hub, the more the parking costs, and lower top density at that employment hub, sharply lowering peak future opportunity at that employment hub.

People will still own cars, but there will be far fewer of them.

The US Military budget is above $5 per gallon of crude oil used in the US, using 2011 budget and consumption numbers. That $5 is used to regulate world access to crude oil, to lower world fuel costs, such as by fighting the War on Terror, and the War in Iraq. For US drivers, this means we all pay $5 per gallon of oil to subsidize them, because drivers don't pay the real $8 per gallon fuel charge to justify US world wide Miltiary role protecting oil extraction and transport. If we did not protect oil with such high military spending, more than the next 13 highest military spending countries combined, oil prices would be drastically higher, and much more volitile in price, fluctuating between say $20 per gallon and $6 per gallon. This unhelpful pricing for drivers, would direct all urban growth into a New York City style pattern of dense walkable neighborhoods, instead of rediculous and poluting suburban sprawl. It would also mean we would all be commuting by rail mass transit, and back-up buses, and feer buses to rail stations.

The cost of CO2 carbon foot prints from cars is massive and growing, but not covered clearly in any specific transaction, despite quickly growing costs of droughts, and storm damage, and increased air conditioning usage, impacting the price of everything from Florida Orange Juice to grain and cattle feed prices, and therefore Beef prices, and all urban transactions.

The time wasted in car traffic and opportunity completely denied by car traffic is amazingly poor use everyone's opportunity.

To be clear, I don't oppose cars; I support multimodalism, starting with efficient gridded streets with tall and narrow row houses, as the default urban fabric, with maximum walkable density. I support taxi cabs, and (hopefully very fair and speedy non-violent dispute resolution via) police cars, and chauffeur driven cars for celebrity or the most powerful or affluent people using cars for efficiency/privacy/safety, and mail delivery, family trips with full cars such as to lowest prices grocery stores, or beaches, or grandma's house.

I hate cars for most commuting. I don't like really cars for dropping a single child off at school or daycare, preferring walkable and pushed child stroller-able very local child services, and bus service (with child safety seats as necessary) for elementary to junior high kids, and subways and feeder public buses for many or most junior high kids best programs.

The total cost of these multimodal transit options is drastically lower than monopoly car culture.

by Nathaniel Pendleton on Nov 8, 2013 2:34 pm • linkreport

I would not object if proponents of the height limit lobbied congress to fund a much more detailed buildout analysis that fleshed out all these assumptions, estimated likelihood and consequences (including aesthetic consequences, preferably using the same drab grey blocks that were used to illustrate the height limit changes)

Coolio. I think I'd leave that up to the Office of Planning, since that's what they get paid to do, but it would be interesting. Apples to apples and then I think it would be an informed decision as to where and how best to grow. I've found in designing buildings that many times the best ideas come from doing a thorough analysis of the problem first.

by Thayer-D on Nov 8, 2013 2:55 pm • linkreport

"I think I'd leave that up to the Office of Planning, since that's what they get paid to do,"

OP has limited resources and a lot on its plate, and it sounds like proponents want a very detailed analysis (more than I think is worthwhile, since I think there are multiple reasons to change the limit other than buildout date, and that waiting till that date is imminent is a mistake) so I think funding at least should come from somewhere else.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Nov 8, 2013 3:06 pm • linkreport

It was refering to Harriet Tregoning's definition of build out being when the 4.9% of vacant land is built up.

Whatever. Does this mean you'll stop trotting out the "end of growth" strawman any time that there are signs that the city still has room to grow - since everyone agrees that it does?

by David C on Nov 8, 2013 3:26 pm • linkreport

Metro is more efficient, with higher capacity and less operating subsidies, if commuters flow in both directions during Peak. Building offices around almost every metro station will lead to a more balanced flow of passengers.

by Alan Drake on Nov 8, 2013 3:36 pm • linkreport

It's worth noting that Arlington and Alexandria are approximately at DC's density as well so counting them the urban core is just over 1 million people in about 110 sq miles or just about 9,100 pppsm or about half of Chicago which has 2.7 million people in 230 sq miles. I'm sure if you start adding in Silver Spring, Bethesda, Tysons and other edge cities we start to rival the spread of urban Chicago.

by BTA on Nov 8, 2013 3:48 pm • linkreport

"Here's a great letter supporting the height limit in 1905."
-----
In 1905.

In those days, people very likely had good reasons for supporting child labor, sweatshops, tenements, 7-day work weeks, and Jim Crow as well.

Times change.

by ceefer on Nov 8, 2013 4:41 pm • linkreport

In San Francisco they were jerks in the 60s razing 100 blocks of "blight" in the Western Addition neighborhood that resulted in a ghastly trench of a boulevard that eliminated most businesses on Geary between Van Ness and Masonic and made the divide between Pacific Heights and Fillmore even more jarring. All in the name of progress. Yeah, right.

by Mark on Nov 8, 2013 5:17 pm • linkreport

DC piled up a massive budget surplus of 400 million by the end of 2012. Given the gentrification has been the dominant theme, how is slowing the rate redevelopment going to lead to insolvency? Is there something I don't know?

by Solution Giver on Nov 8, 2013 8:52 pm • linkreport

how is slowing the rate redevelopment going to lead to insolvency?

It isn't. But there is distance between optimal finances and insolvency. People making the economic argument for raising the height limit are saying that we would be better off if we did so. Your argument is that we're wealthy enough to afford some bad policy that's hardly convincing.

Listen those of you who oppose raising the height limit, it's time to make your case. So far what I mostly see is an attempt to attack the economic argument for raising it. With things like "the height limit won't stop growth" and "we're so rich that we don't need growth anyway." But what else have you got. As near as I can tell, the pro-height limit argument appears to be:

1. I don't like tall buildings and I think most people agree with me that they are ugly and soul-sucking. If I am wrong about the second part, I don't care.

2. The city is great the way it is. If we change it, there is a chance it will be worse. Why risk it?

Am I missing something?

by David C on Nov 8, 2013 10:37 pm • linkreport

Preclusive politicians, typically conservatives, but often so called "environmentalist", who block smart growth infrastructure, such as tallest towers, get away with it because people are bad at math and can't calculate opportunity costs, nor point to a tall building that was never built, called proving a negative.

We need a real economic analysis of how mind blowingly destructive to our city and region it is to loose the efficient smart growth tallest possible safe towers at rail hubs is for DC economy year after year, from less efficient smaller expert labor markets which typically employ fewer people, at lower wages, the compounding cost of less infrastructure investment into new rail services, such as new subway lines, such as express lines like NYC Subway which skip many stops, to shorten overall commute time for larger distances, and what it means not to have a world class public 4 year liberal arts university in DC for DC children to become the best they can be.

As I explained above, if opportunity is measured by the possiblity of two person links for the number of people who can get to an expert labor market in a time circle radii of that market, there are many factors which minimize the population which can do that. Traffic and distance control the radii.

Visible or direct cost of transportation per commute and distance is major factor (e.g. car purchase price, and pump price for car fuel).

Capacity of transport is major factor, such as one helicopter platform at the top of building, means that even though a helicopter can come as many as 100 miles in 30 minutes, the absence of a second parking place would be a problem for the second helicopter commuter, before even accounting for how expensive helicopters are to buy, and how inefficient they are using fuel.

Invisible prices of time wasted or opportunity denied because of insufficient office space, insufficient quality housing nearer the employment hub, insufficient capacity of multimodal transport to the employment hub, are mind bogglingly large numbers in terms of opportunity costs.

Combined the impact of these types of man made constraints on most efficient, by simply rejecting the investment to save time and energy forever with proven walkable gridded streets, and tallest towers, and rail hub and spoke investments, preventing economic growth year in and year out has massive accumulating actual and opportunity costs.

If man made unhappy strategies preventing smart growth, delay an economy from 8% growth per year, to say 3% growth per year, for 100 years, the difference in outcomes is so large, one would quickly see those advocating dumb growth policies, typically unhappy US Conservatives, as worse than terrorists, or arsonists.

How can we tell? If you invest $1 in a liberal smart growth infrastructure investing focused economy growing at 8% per year, the return on investment 100 years later is about $2200. Invest that same $1 in an economy sharply limited by conservatives into a dumb anti-smart growth economy growing, at 3% per year for 100 years, the return is only less than $20.

The liberal return from smart growth is 114 times better than the other, or in other words, the dumb slow growth destroys more than 99% of the wealth creation compared with the other.

These 3% and 8% numbers were purely example numbers looking into the future, but were definitely NOT chosen at random. China is investing strongly in infrastructure, and growing so fast that when it is in a recession, therefore growing very slowly, it only grows at 8% per year, but typically it grows much faster. The US is struggling with unhappy conservative policies repeatedly rejecting investment in infrastructure, so we grow at 3% per year only under boom times, but in the past decade we have been making due with 2% or less growth in our best years since the GWBush era economic collapse, and slow recovery under a very conservative filibustering US Senate Minority party, blocking all infrastructure projects it could.

Now I can't tell you if the opportunity costs for DC are as high or low as the split in outcomes between 8% growth vs 3% growth over 100 years, but the opportunity costs likely huge, and we need real research to understand what they are, and research into how to minimize opportunity costs for DC and the DC region.

by Nathaniel Pendleton on Nov 9, 2013 12:59 am • linkreport

How is there only 4.9 % developable land left I have to call BS on that. Any land is developable point blank I make an offer 2, 3 or 4 times the price of some land 8 out of 10 times I would get that land.

Or in terms of DC specifically if someone had about $300 million to spend that could probably buy out every single row house between Union Station and Hechinger Mall north of H Street and just bulldoze the area.

by kk on Nov 9, 2013 1:47 am • linkreport

The talk of upward growth is one worth looking into. However, take into consideration that one of the appealing features of DC are the vistas. There is something to be said of coming over the hill on Wisconsin Avenue and being able to see down river. Or standing above Cardoza and seeing the entire lower half of the city, it's inspiring. Yet, we have the largest quadrant of the city in NE that is screaming for development and economic enhancement. Along Georgia Avenue and New Hampshire there are massive tracts of land that house absolutely awful strip centers, blighted storefronts, warehouse space and more that absolutely could be redeveloped into high-density mixed use space. Has anyone on this site ever driven up Rhode Island Avenue or South Dakota, Addison Rd, or even Nannie Burroughs and Sherriff Roads? There is still so much blight and these are the areas that are screaming for development. Because those areas are considered our poorer neighborhoods we don't as readily explore their economic and real estate development. It's time to get our heads out of the ass of Farragut Square and Penn Quarter and look to bringing economic equality to other potentially terrific areas of the city.

by VictoriaD on Nov 9, 2013 11:26 am • linkreport

@kk

$300 million for the amount of real estate in the Union Station/Hechinger Mall area?? Truly a clueless comment as the average value of the homes in that are hit somewhere around $600K each then you would have to include all the economic redevelopment that has taken place which would add billions to that tab. The area you mention has seen huge revitalization in the last ten years and continues to grow, flourish and become more vibrant each and every day. This area is flush with citizens who chose to invest in an emerging neighborhood that offered everything more historically "hip" areas did yet at a liveable price. The areas value is exponentially higher than it was 20 years ago when that dollar amount you mention perhaps could have worked. Math simply math and a little research.

by VictoriaD on Nov 9, 2013 11:35 am • linkreport

Yet, we have the largest quadrant of the city in NE that is screaming for development and economic enhancement.

NW is largest.

Has anyone on this site ever driven up Rhode Island Avenue or South Dakota, Addison Rd, or even Nannie Burroughs and Sherriff Roads?

I think many of us have. I've also ridden my bike on them and taken the bus on some of them if it matters.

There is still so much blight and these are the areas that are screaming for development.

If your point is that the height limit will force development into those blighted areas, I would say there is a better way. Raise the height limit more in those areas. Make the land so valuable that developers have to hit it. I'll also point out that pushing development around is a dangerous game. It will also push development to Virginia and Maryland as well as just kill some development (and jobs with it). That hardly seems like a way to help people in blighted neighborhoods.

by David C on Nov 9, 2013 10:48 pm • linkreport

I'll also point out that pushing development around is a dangerous game.

Dangerous like how cities have pushed development around throughout the history of mankind? Development is a sensitive thing, it will only happen in an unrestricted environment. The world is full of cities that tried to push development around, only to kill off thier economies.

It will also push development to Virginia and Maryland as well as just kill some development (and jobs with it).
So development in Virginia and Maryland is a result of the height limit in DC? Who new the only place in the region that looked attractive to developers was DC. Our current growth pattern has been 'mind blowingly destructive to our city and region' compared to cities unencumbered by height restrictions. The end of growth must be near!

by Thayer-D on Nov 10, 2013 4:05 am • linkreport

The world is full of cities that tried to push development around, only to kill off thier economies.

So, then we're in agreement that keeping the height limit low in order to encourage development and other parts of the city is a bad idea?

So development in Virginia and Maryland is a result of the height limit in DC?

Certainly some of it is. But if you read my comment as saying that DC is the only attractive place for development in the region then you need to go back and reread it. That is not at all what I said.

The end of growth must be near!

That is what you, and only you, keep saying

by David C on Nov 10, 2013 9:35 am • linkreport

Yes David, we're in agreement. And you're right, I'm the only one says "the end of growth" line. Can you guess who said the following?

Beyond the inherent and inevitable competition between jurisdictions for business prospects, Washington-Area leaders say there is room for cooperation on broad issues that affect the region as a whole.

A:The Greater Washington Board of Trade.
B:The Washington Business journal
C:Someone who recognizes the region's economy for the multi-nodal economic engine it is and how local zoning regs are but one aspect of a business's decision to locate.

by Thayer-D on Nov 10, 2013 2:11 pm • linkreport

Is there a way for us to set an online survey who wants what types of changes to the skyline laws in DC?

by Nathaniel Pendleton on Nov 10, 2013 3:05 pm • linkreport

Thayer-D

Philly is more densely populated than DC. As to why it's not attracting as many ppl..? That's simple - it doesn't feed off the trough of the federal government. If Philly was still the capital things would be reversed as far as that goes.

by Andre on Nov 10, 2013 4:29 pm • linkreport

Nathaniel - your density models are a little off... Brooklyn geographically is smaller than DC and has 2.6 million ppl. Also if DC had Manhattan's density there would be 8 million. No city could really sustain that.... even the 5 boroughs of NYC (all crowded except Staten Island) "only" has a population of 8.4 million. The whole city couldn't handle Manhattan density.

by Andre on Nov 10, 2013 4:40 pm • linkreport

I used (presumably rounded) popualtion density data several years ago, perhaps the US Census of 2010, and then worked back from memory, so my apologies if my numbers are in anyway fudged.

Brooklyn is 96.91 square miles, and DC 68.3 square miles according to google, so DC is 70.4% of the area of Brooklyn.

If google says the population of Brooklyn is 2.566 million in 2012, that suggests if DC had a population of 1.808 million, it would be equal in density to Brooklyn.

If we repeat for Manhattan, according to google, area is 33.77 sq miles, and population 1.619 million. DC is 202.2505% of the size on Manhattan. If DC had population of New York, this data says 3.274 million people.

If DC had 8.4 million people, we would have a population density of 2.56 times the density of Manhattan.

by Nathaniel Pendleton on Nov 10, 2013 5:13 pm • linkreport

typo: If DC had population of Manhattan, this data says DC would be 3.274 million people.

by Nathaniel Pendleton on Nov 10, 2013 5:33 pm • linkreport

@Andre

...it doesn't feed off the trough of the federal government

Excellent point Andre, and I have no idea why there isn't more of a discussion about this fact. We have developers building massive amounts of high rent apartments, high cost condos, and high end row home renovations, high end hotels, luxury office space, etc.. Does anybody just stop and think what if somebody(future president, future congress, the will of the American people) turned the faucet off? How is any of this sustainable? I see a boom city, similar to a Dublin, Ireland (and we saw what the recession did there).

I don't see a city that is in any way attempting to become self sustainable (urban farming, local business incubation labs, local investment capital, local manufacturing, government acceptance of sound economic principles). I see a city that doesn't have a plan B. Why aren't there more discussions about ways to diversity the DC economy, rather than just squeezing as much easy money out now in the short term. I just wonder what will happen when it starts to wind down.

by "Bill the wanderer" on Nov 10, 2013 9:41 pm • linkreport

Someone who recognizes the region's economy for the multi-nodal economic engine it is and how local zoning regs are but one aspect of a business's decision to locate.

I really don't care who said that, but I agree that zoning regs are only one aspect of business's decision to locate. Or expand. Or a person's decision to move to the city or from it.

But it is one factor. So we should only handicap ourselves when the benefit is worth it. And so far, no one has made a convincing case that there is a benefit.

by David C on Nov 10, 2013 9:56 pm • linkreport

I really don't care who said that

Of course you don't. Why would buisness leaders have anything relevant to say about how we plan for growth?

by Thayer-D on Nov 11, 2013 4:58 am • linkreport

Or, If someone has something relevant to say, it doesn't really matter who says it. That quote would be just as relevant if a 12 year old boy said it.

by David C on Nov 11, 2013 7:30 am • linkreport

Nathaniel - my calculations were a little off too going by the top of my head as to the size of the cities. Going strictly by land (nobody actually lives on water - except maybe in Amsterdam) DC is only 61 square miles - Brooklyn is only 71 square miles - which makes it slightly bigger than DC.... and Manhattan is only 23 square miles or about 1/3 of DC. So DC would end up being 2.3 mill or close to 4 mill... So it's closer to what you originally stated.

by Andre on Nov 11, 2013 5:05 pm • linkreport

More back of the envelope calculations says Manhattan may have only 1.6 million people living there, but more than 7 million rides on Subway each day (so 3.5 million round trips), plus about 1 million commuter rail rides to Manhattan, if I understand the data, suggests that daytime Manhattan may actually be 6.1 million people at midday.

This is 3.8125 times the stated population of Manhattan of 1.6 million people. If DC had a night time population density of Manhattan, DC would be 3.2 million people using my google data above. If peak DC daytime population was 3.8 times its base population, suggests DC would have a workday population of 12.2 million people.

by Nathaniel Pendleton on Nov 11, 2013 5:40 pm • linkreport

@VictoriaD: the whole point of the article is to say that yes, if DC wants to, we can have densify through wholesale redevelopment of neighborhoods.

Yet all of these 'plentiful' areas really do amount to a very small slice of a very small city. You can see for yourself in OP's report that the 4.9% that they mention includes pretty much all of the areas that you, and others, have mentioned as ripe for redevelopment. I agree, and OP agrees, but those areas frankly don't amount to that much land.

by Payton on Nov 19, 2013 1:20 pm • linkreport

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