How Tall is Too Tall?

What is the best height to promote good urban living? It needs to be high to attain necessary density but not so high that it detracts from the quality of life, particularly for existing residents. In short, what is the Goldilocks height level?

April 26, 2014, 11:00 AM PDT

By Irvin Dawid

The Shard London

Duncan Harris / flickr

Are residential high rises good for the urban environment? Lloyd Alter, Toronto resident and managing editor of TreeHugger, answers that question in The Guardian's "Live Better Challenge" that focuses on sustainable living, He asserts that "(t)he trend for elite towers that reach ever skywards isn't healthy for a sustainable community or for a balanced quality of life."

There is no question that high urban densities are important, but the question is how high, and in what form. There is what I have called the Goldilocks density: dense enough to support vibrant main streets with retail and services for local needs, but not too high that people can't take the stairs in a pinch. Dense enough to support bike and transit infrastructure, but not so dense to need subways and huge underground parking garages. Dense enough to build a sense of community, but not so dense as to have everyone slip into anonymity.

In Manhattan, Alter would find many in agreement about the obtrusiveness of what they call "supertowers," reports NPR's New York City correspondent, Margot Adler [listen here], on the opposition movement to the One57 building and the shadows (see photo) it will cast over Central Park, though they have their defenders.

"The shadows cast by tall, slender buildings, which is what most of the buildings going up are, are very brief — maybe they're 10 minutes in any one place — and cause no negative effect on the flora or fauna of the park," said Gary Barnett, president of Extell Development.

Back to our Treehugger editor, Lloyd Alter, an architect, environmentalist and a "heritage activist" residing in Toronto. On his world list of supertowers, he points to the "knocking down (of) four designated heritage buildings to build three 85-storey Frank Gehry towers." While he doesn't write much about them, I suspect they may be the root of his column.

Fortunately, he includes a link to a local architectural review of the project, even if it is a flattering one, designed by the world-famous Gehry, a Toronto native. [Also see a post here on the project: "Toronto Asks Gehry to Go Back to Drawing Board."]

For a good read on Toronto density, see Planetizen exclusive: "Mid-Rise: Density at a Human Scale."

Wednesday, April 16, 2014 in The Guardian

Soldier Field

Phase 1 Revealed for $20 Billion Chicago Megaproject

Plans for One Central, a proposed megadevelopment that would add 22.3 million square feet of buildings to the city of Chicago, are taking shape.

October 19, 2021 - Chicago Tribune


Boston Introduces 'Maximum Parking Ratios' for Large Buildings

Large buildings with uses of all kinds will be subject to Boston's new "Maximum Parking Ratios."

October 14, 2021 - Streetsblog Mass

GIS Mobile App

Survey: What Mobile Apps Are Most Useful for Planning in 2021?

Planetizen is requesting your input in creating the definitive list of mobile apps for professional, student, academic, or citizen planners—updated for a planning profession forever altered by the Covid-19 pandemic.

October 18, 2021 - Planetizen

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Hand Drawing Master Plans

This course aims to provide an introduction into Urban Design Sketching focused on how to hand draw master plans using a mix of colored markers.