Thursday, January 18, 2007

A new skyline for Austin? …

[“Downtown” Week,” continued]

Austincapitol    Austin, Texas, is bound to be one of the star cities of this century.  Few other cities of its size in the world boast its current prominence in government, education, culture (its somewhat hyperbolic claim of “the world’s live music capital” got a boost with the migration of many New Orleans musicians), and even charm.

   But Austin residents are worried that its booming economy will chop away at its charm.  The city has proposed rethinking its “view corridors” that protects vistas of the state capitol dome.  With new business moving to town, developers are pushing for newer and bigger office buildings, which currently are limited by the many “view corridors.”

   Old cities across the world have struggled, of course, with whether and how to restrict high-rise construction that would mar historic vistas.  Paris largely relegated high office construction to a specific district, La Defense.  London protected a few areas, and has its own outer-city office tower area in Canary Wharf.  Washington, D.C., has stuck to its early 20th-century law that no building downtown can rise above approximately 11 stories, protecting the view of the U.S. Capitol, which means that D.C. office buildings are mostly uniform (and thus, some say, boring), while Philadelphia (perhaps not as secure as its more famous rivals to the north and south) abandoned its old rule about towers rising higher than William Penn's statue atop City Hall.  My guess is that Austin will wisely cut back on the multiplicity of its corridors and allow high office buildings in more sectors.  Austin is primed to be a major world city, and aspiring to a compromise along the lines of what London or Paris have done doesn’t seem so bad.

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