From our eclectic reader, Daily Scot:

Many longtime residents of San Francisco, Miami and other hot U.S. cities complain of “Manhattanization” when developers put up 20- or 30-story apartment complexes. In Portland, Oregon, they’re debating the wisdom of 40 stories.

They should try 100 stories on for size — or not, if they value the amenities of urban life. That’s the height of a megatower proposed for downtown Seattle. It was “downsized” from 102 stories after aviation authorities warned the tower could interfere with air traffic. …

What’s so terrible about megatowers? They cause wind tunnels at ground level. They block out the sun, putting huge swaths of city in shadow. They create canyons trapping air pollution and heat in summer. They kill others’ views.

Michael Mehaffy, an architectural critic based in Portland, Oregon, has likened super-tall residential buildings to vertical gated communities cut off from the neighbors far below. Furthermore, the buildings are often half empty.

That’s because these ultra-expensive spaces are being marketed to a global elite seeking a safe place to stash their money. Billions are pouring in from Russia, China,Saudi Arabia and Latin America. …

Seattle’s proposed 4/C megatower — so named for its location at Fourth Avenue and Columbia Street — would be the tallest building on the West Coast. Why would Seattleites want such an outlandishly high structure?

“Vancouver envy,” Mehaffy responds, referring to the tower-crazed Canadian city about 150 miles to the north. “The irony of that is a lot of people there are upset at the development.”

Such discontent may explain one Vancouver developer’s announcement that his project’s $18 million penthouse would be sold only to a local resident. …

The theme this campaign season is ordinary Americans’ wanting their power back. That should extend to politics on the very local level. Residents have a right to determine the destiny of their neighborhoods.

The real estate barons often call the shots in America’s city halls. The people must tell the politicians inside that there will be consequences to ignoring their opinions.




  1. Next thing you know, those jealous Seattleites will try challenging our Lamborghini/Ferrari density too.

  2. Shadow creating, wind tunneling, view blocking buildings come in all shapes and sizes. They are not limited to towers. The mid-rise streetscapes of central Paris, loved by millions, create more shadowing issues than point towers ever will. Paris does not have view cones, although the quadruple rows of trees and beautiful limestone building walls lining many boulevards do encompass great linear perspectives. And shadowing during the dark, dark winters of Vancouver and Seattle is an issue? Really?

    What is it about this ill-defined, emotional obsession with towers in pieces like this? What about the point of human contact at the ground level sidewalk edges of buildings? Streets, fine-textured building walls and human-scaled, street-oriented amenities continue to be overlooked when one looks only upwards. Therefore our streets, which consume 1/3rd of our land area, continue to be mundane and symbols of urban design mediocrity. Towers are not such an important part of the Commons because they are largely private. Streets belong to everyone.

    And the comment about “gated communities” paints an entire city with one broad brush. That comment certainly erodes itself when one addresses some of the more innovative mixed use towers in Vancouver where the lower quarter is commercial, and the middle is social housing or mid-priced apartments.

    Downtown, key arterials and transit hubs have towers. There’s no mystery or urbanist crime there.

  3. It is strange that so many citizens think their legal and moral standing extends to feeling entitled to dictate how tall a building can be on someone else’s legally zoned property. “Why would Seattleites want such an outlandishly high structure?” If it’s legal to build and zoned for that purpose, why is it Seattleites business how tall the building is? Zoning boards and design commissions exist to ensure that the needs (and whims) of the public are adhered to. This opposition isn’t about the building’s functional impact on the neighbourhood. It’s just about imposing some peoples’ personal sense of appropriateness. That’s the real travesty.

    1. Devil’s advocate: isn’t zoning and regulation just people’s sense of appropriateness, codified?

      1. Largely, yes. But those ideally mitigate functional impacts (i.e., noise, toxicity of land use, type and volume of traffic); not one-dimensional aesthetics. Besides, the Seattle tower site is presumably zoned to allow such heights, so the people’s sense of appropriateness is already codified.

      2. I would argue that zoning is rarely the people’s sense of appropriateness, but the will of a city planning department with its own agenda and favours to repay.

        Having said that zoning often manages to be more objective and balanced than the opinions of the citizenry whose ability to see the big picture is often limited to what each individual can see through a drinking straw.

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