Monday, December 4, 2006
First off, thanks to Ben Barros for inviting me to guest blog on this site. I'm a big fan of the site, and I'm looking forward to many interesting discussions.
Since, like many of you, I'm in the midst of writing an exam (for my Land Use class), I thought I'd start off by just quickly sharing this interesting tidbit I received in my inbox from Alex Marshall, of the Regional Plan Association as part of the RPA newsletter. In the email, he observes an apparent correlation between income inequality and exceptionally tall buildings. Here are the key paragraphs of his discussion:
The majority of the tallest 100 skyscapers are in the United States, (35), and China (27). It is a remarkable story to see how China, which a generation ago probably had no tall buildings, now has almost as many as the United States. The other countries in the top 100, in order of the number of buildings they had, were Dubai (7), Malaysia (3), Australia (3), Canada (3), Singapore (3), Saudi Arabia (2), Taiwan (2), Bahrain (2), Germany (2), South Korea (2), Qatar (1), Russia (1), Philippines (1), Thailand (1), North Korea (1), and Japan (1). This list of countries mostly repeats itself when I looked at the top 200 tallest buildings. Again, the USA and China dominated, with a smattering of other countries listed above.
In general, the countries that have the bulk of the skyscrapers fare poorly on the inequality rankings. The United States and China rank quite low in income equality, at 73rd and 85th out of 126 countries. Part of China’s inequity ranking is shown in that it still actually has a per capita income of about $1700 per year, less than Guatemala. Given that, it’s amazing it’s been able to lead the world in production of skyscrapers. Other countries on the top 200 list also ranked low. Malaysia was at 98th; Singapore was at 85th in income equality.
He does not stake too much on this, as there are many other things that might explain the data (e.g., the timeframe of urbanization in the various countries), but Alex posits an interesting mechanism that he thinks might explain the apparent correlation: in more egalitarian societies, people negatively impacted by skyscrapers are able to exert more influence in the political process and prevent their construction more effectively than in more unequal socities, where the monied interests who want to strut their stuff with tall buildings are more readily able to get their way.