How To Create A "Vertical Suburb"

MLewyn's picture

At CNU, Richard Florida quipped that high-rises were "vertical suburbs".  At the time, I couldn't quite figure out what he was trying to say.

But when I visited Long Beach in Long Island, I think I understood his point.  I saw (or thought I saw) high-rises as far as the eye could see.  This arrangement struck me as dull and "suburb-like", probably because it seemed to exclude all other uses.  A housing-only monoculture looks boring whether the housing is high-rise or single-family.   In other words, a single-use environment is sterile no matter what the uses are.

But this doesn't mean that tall buildings are bad.  The buildings in Long Beach aren't really that tall- only six or seven stories apiece. They just seem like high-rises because they are really wide.  

Paradoxically, skyscraper-phobia actually encourages the blight of mid-rise dullness.  Why?  Because if you want to build 100 apartments, and you can't build tall, you have to build wide.  And if a building is wide, it takes up most or all of a block, which leaves no room for the nonresidential land uses that make places less sterile.  By contrast, tall, thin buildings make room for nonresidential uses (either on the first floor of a high-rise or in a separate building).

So height limits may actually create, rather than discouraging, vertical suburbia.


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