Asking “How High?” on the Way Up

TallBuildingsYes, we should build up and not out.  But how high should we be building?  Should the sky be the limit?  How do we determine what will work best for a given area within our city or county?

Really tall buildings suck.  I mean that kind of literally.  Buildings can suck the life from the street and kill surrounding development if they are too high.  Height also of course affects character.  Isn’t it important, for instance, to protect the character of our residential neighborhood streets?  If an area is predominantly 1-2 story single-family detached houses, then it could cause the neighbors some grief if someone were to arbitrarily plop down a 10-story apartment building in the middle of things.  It just feels wrong if we change heights too abruptly.  Most of us feel that it’s much more appealing and natural for changes to occur gradually as you walk down a neighborhood street.  Height also affects light and shade as well as contributing to traffic on the street.  So it makes sense to have some rules for how high we can build in a given location.

Pluses and minuses.  But allowing some tall buildings can be a good thing too, right?  Absolutely!  How tall is tall will of course depend on a lot of factors including surrounding conditions.  But in relative terms, taller buildings help a community to create a focus of activity where we want it to occur.  It’s completely appropriate to limit heights at neighborhood edges and then to allow taller buildings in a neighborhood or village center.  The center should be a busier place.  Walking and car traffic are good for retail business.  Higher density residential being close to commercial in the center makes sense too.  Retail businesses will benefit from the higher number of people walking and driving by right next door, and the busyness of a commercial street can be quite compatible with the natural busyness of higher-density apartments or condos.

It’s only logical.  So across our cities and county we will want to set building heights using some logic.  We should take cues from the existing conditions, add in some desired changes, and create a heirarchy of centers.  Let’s first focus on areas that are naturally already busy centers of activity, and then think about a logical evolution of the surrounding neighborhoods.  Using this methodology it is easy to imagine what building heights are appropriate for each center and subcenter.  Of course as we work on planning the future evolution of our communities in this way, we should work with marketing and economic development experts and put some science to our thinking…

To be continued…

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