Do Tall Buildings Attact Foreigners?

MLewyn's picture

I was discussing Washington, D.C.'s height limits with some acquaintances on Twitter; one of them suggested that allowing taller buildings might turn Washington into a "global city", which in turn would cause foreigners to surge into Washington and drive up real estate prices (as has arguably been the case in parts of Vancouver and New York).

This argument seems to be to be based on two assumptions that are at best unprovable:

1.  Washington is just attractive enough to attract foreign demand if height limits are lifted.  Since I don't know of any evidence of a surge in foreign investment in the Washington suburbs (which lack height limits) this seems hard to believe.  

It could be argued that the blocks near Congress or the White House are so prestigious that they have an attraction that the District of Columbia's more urban suburbs lack.  Even if this was true, it seems to me that (a) this is not true of most of the District, and (b) if it was true, the District's townhouses and existing stock of mid-rise buildings would be just as attractive to the rich foreigners as high-rises.

2.   Rich foreigners will only invest in urban high-rise condos (as opposed to other types of buildings).  This argument could be true in theory, but I don't see any evidence that this is the case.  In fact, at least some low-rise areas are attractive to foreign buyers; for example, 41 percent of trulia.com searches in Los Angeles's suburban Bel Air district come from foreigners, as opposed to 13 percent of searches in Los Angeles generally. Thus, it seems to me that if a well-off area lacks foreign demand absent high-rises, high-rises will not create such demand.  

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