Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Low Buildings, High Costs

Matt Yglesias on the high cost of the height restrictions that Washington D.C. imposes on builders:

[G]overnments of growing municipalities need to understand that urban space is a hugely valuable commodity. Rules which mandate that the space be used inefficiently are extremely costly. Sometimes it’s a price worth paying—you wouldn’t want a city with zero parks—but there are limits to how much it makes sense to sacrifice for aesthetics.

The thrust of Yglesias's argument is that the height restrictions unnecessarily push low skill jobs into the suburbs.  In a follow-up post, Atrios also puts forth out that restricting skyscrapers creates more medium rises at the expense of more human scale buildings. 

I think these arguments have some validity, but they miss a vital point. The authors ignore the important role that architecture plays in stabilizing and propagating both cultural ideals and group identity.  There's something special about being from a place like Pella, Iowa or Solvang, California or Santa Fe, New Mexico where all the buildings have the same look.  It says something about the place, the people, and the value of history.  For me, there's similar meaning in the District's regulations, which have preserved the Washington Monument as the tallest building around.

Steve Clowney

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