Will "Ghost" Towers Dominate U.S. Skylines?

Paul Smalera sees in the the ghost towers of Bangkok a disturbing warning for economically distressed urban developments in the United States.
March 20, 2009, 6am PDT | Michael Dudley
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"All over [Bangkok] skyline, towers [stand] in various states of undress but sans cranes or construction site bustle.

[In America we] are watching as our own ghosts materialize. Smaller cities like Minneapolis; Charlottesville, Va.; and Sacramento, Calif.; are all dealing with half-finished hotels or shopping centers, boarded up as developers' rationale and cash evaporated. There are, of course, acres of vacant homes all over Florida's swamplands and Las Vegas' deserts. These exurban projects could easily become ghost towns if credit to save them is not freed up. And the same credit crunch is making the prospect of ghost towers in our major cities very real.

New York, Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Chicago all have at least one major skyscraper in some stage of development death. New York-with major new towers in Lower Manhattan, Midtown, and Brooklyn on hold-has at least 30 sites where work has stopped. Boston has a 21-acre, $2.5 billion harbor development in limbo and a $700 million redevelopment of Filene's Tower into downtown condominiums in financing purgatory. The Chicago Spire, designed by starchitect Santiago Calatrava as one of the tallest buildings in the world, has been a hole in the ground since October. Waterview Tower, the Windy City's other stalled super-tall skyscraper, is stuck at the 26th floor.

When I look around Bangkok, I...see our entire country in microcosm in its haunted skyline: stalled development, empty exurbs, ghost towers."

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Published on Thursday, March 19, 2009 in Slate
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