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DC May Look to Raise the Roof(s)
September 14, 2013 10:53 AM   Subscribe

Washington DC has had restrictions on the heights of its buildings since the first year of its existence, thanks to its namesake -- George Washington himself laid down a limit of 40 feet in 1791 (and then suspended the limits, as did several of his successors). The limits waxed and waned over the next century or so until the U.S. Congress, in its capacity as the over-government of America's capital, laid down the Heights of Buildings Act of 1910, setting the upper limit of any building at 130 feet. Now that the city is gaining population again (for the first time since the 1950s), developers and officials may be looking to release the federal height restrictions and give control to the city government (which already has zoning limits in various areas that further restrict heights). The WaPo provides a visualization demonstrating what the skyline might look like if the limits are raised, or even if areas filled out to the current Height Act maximums.
posted by Etrigan (65 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Self-government is really important in DC, but this is the one arena where I think the federal limits make a lot of sense. Imagining a city like DC, whose culture really does dialogue with the architecture (think about that "big small town" feel) taken over by high rise commercial buildings for defense contractors ... gives me a very uncomfortable feeling, like a visual representation of what our government has already become.
posted by Apropos of Something at 10:59 AM on September 14, 2013 [14 favorites]


It gives me the impression of private corporations building a wall around the government and seat of power to keep the people out.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:10 AM on September 14, 2013 [8 favorites]


The human scale of DC is one of my favorite things about the city; it's so distinctive and fitting, to me. I know DC needs property taxes, but this will be such a giveaway to developers etc.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:12 AM on September 14, 2013 [10 favorites]


One reason Paris is such a beautiful city to visit is they've had very strict height limits (31–37 meters) for a very long time. The limit was waived for the Eiffel Tower, which is beautiful, and for Tour Montparnasse which is one of the ugliest buildings ever conceived by an architect and deeply regretted by all of Paris. But Paris is lifting their limit now, including a potentially very ugly building, and no one quite knows what will happen.

DC is a beautiful city too but largely because of its monumental architecture, the monuments themselves, and the parks. I hate the idea of it growing up. But it's either that or sprawl out.
posted by Nelson at 11:17 AM on September 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think DC is a much more attractive and accessible city with the height restriction. I might be willing to ditch it for lower residential property prices, but the residential areas aren't built up to maximum height yet. Increasing the maximum would just help developers.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:17 AM on September 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


I like the height restrictions as-is. If they increase it, the city will feel a lot more like Philadelphia -- tall, imposing skyscrapers lording over historic buildings.
posted by spiderskull at 11:18 AM on September 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


It gives it a very European feel. I haven't been to any other city in the U.S. with that same vibe; it would be unfortunate to lose it.
posted by starman at 11:19 AM on September 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


As a DC resident, I've always appreciated the height restrictions as an endearing quirk. I kind of like that all of the tall buildings are on the other side of the river. For better or for worse, the character of the city feels less urban. I like that there are few dark alleys because of the height restrictions.

From an economics perspective, I understand that it unnecessarily limits the size of the city, affecting things like the availability of affordable housing. But I think that it has forced developers to consider building in areas that they would have otherwise ignored.
posted by kat518 at 11:26 AM on September 14, 2013


Curious for those who think the height restrictions should stay: Do you live or work in the District? I don't, but a lot of my friends do, and most of them seem pretty clear that they'd accept some aesthetic change to keep the currently-insane real estate costs down, which affect both residential and commercial development. The alternative is for more and more of "DC" to sprawl into VA and MD, at the expense of the District proper, as prices skyrocket higher and the city becomes unaffordable for anyone but the well-heeled.
posted by Tomorrowful at 11:26 AM on September 14, 2013 [6 favorites]


Given the really terrible distributional effects of the height limit (i.e. urban core restricted to relatively wealthy, usually childless people; families and poors booted to sprawlville) I'm really surprised that there's such support for it here.

The other thing missing in all this is that, rhetoric about defense contractors to the contrary (c'mon, they mostly live in Virginia), the height limit is one of those things that keeps DC from being a normal city with thriving non-government industries and diverse culture. The government-industrial monoculture is both perpetuated by and is a cause of the height limit. With more space to live, work, and play, the agglomeration effects of so many hyper-educated, intelligent people in a few square miles could really allow DC to develop significant industries unrelated to the federal government.

To illustrate this - what do you think would happen if NYC decided to impose a height limit, and lopped off all its buildings at 200 feet? Likely, the finance industry would dominate the city even more than it does today, pushing anything non-finance out of Manhattan, which would in turn push artists, families, and the poor out of the five boroughs entirely.

That's exactly what's happening in DC, and as much as I love being able to see the Washington Monument from my bedroom window, I'm OK with lifting the height limit if it can help turn the city into something other than a paradise for government-industrial complex yuppies.
posted by downing street memo at 11:35 AM on September 14, 2013 [24 favorites]


But why won't it just be a lot of the same expensive yuppie highrises that are now in Arlington?
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:37 AM on September 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


I live and work in the District. I also can't afford to buy a house here, so I guess maybe I should support lifting the restriction, but I don't. The housing stock in the city already has a ton of buildings that are lower than they could be under the law and I don't really believe that would change if the law changed.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:41 AM on September 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


NIMBYism is bad except when I do it?
posted by 2N2222 at 11:46 AM on September 14, 2013


LobsterMitten, there are a lot of reasons why "live in Arlington" is not a reasonable substitute for "live in DC". The two cities (well, the "federal district" and the "county", I guess) have very different cultures and feels; I used to live in Arlington and while I didn't hate it, it is absolutely no substitute for living in the District, at least not for me.
posted by downing street memo at 11:47 AM on September 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, from a political perspective, Arlington is not all high-rise urban - Ballston-Rosslyn and Pentagon City-Crystal City make up a relatively small part of the county's overall population. Mere blocks from those strips is out-and-out suburbia and they vote the way you'd assume they would.
posted by downing street memo at 11:50 AM on September 14, 2013


No, I realize that Arlington and DC are different. I just mean, why believe that if they build up the District, it won't just be more expensive housing for yuppies?
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:50 AM on September 14, 2013


The alternative is for more and more of "DC" to sprawl into VA and MD, at the expense of the District proper, as prices skyrocket higher and the city becomes unaffordable for anyone but the well-heeled.

Isn't this the situation now, more or less? If lifting these restrictions came with some associated holds on rents, etc. then that argument might be more tenable, but its hard to see how this is much else but a naked cash grab, lobbyists helping developers cash in on the lobbyist crowd at the expense of everyone else, and destroying the unique character of the nation's capital, in the bargain.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:51 AM on September 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


If you've ever been in DC traffic you should support raising the height limit imo. It's not the only factor that makes the roads a living hellscape, but it is big factor.
posted by Gyrus at 11:52 AM on September 14, 2013


I like the height restrictions as-is. If they increase it, the city will feel a lot more like Philadelphia -- tall, imposing skyscrapers lording over historic buildings.

Wait, what? Basically all the skyscrapers here are clustered together in one big business district, leaving nearly the entire rest of the city to remain smaller-scale. The really historic stuff is on the opposite side of Broad Street from the skyscrapers, by the Delaware River, and other than the Society Hill Towers I can't think of any seriously tall buildings that "lord over" historic structures. If anything, I think Philly's a good model of how to build up for modern development without necessarily having to rip up all the old architecture.
posted by Tomorrowful at 11:54 AM on September 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


I just mean, why believe that if they build up the District, it won't just be more expensive housing for yuppies?

Arlington has height and density limits too, fairly strict ones that tightly pen in the existing urban strips.

Economically, whenever you put a cap on supply, businesspeople will chase margin (build "luxury" apartments, in this case). If you can only build so much, you want to wring every dollar out of what you build, so you create high-rent apartments and retail spaces, which go to rich people and high-margin businesses, respectively. (Ever wonder why there's literally 6 yogurt shops in Clarendon alone?)

Removing the supply cap allows firms to move downmarket and build stuff that isn't for yuppies.
posted by downing street memo at 11:57 AM on September 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


I can't think of any seriously tall buildings that "lord over" historic structures.

Everything around City Hall?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:59 AM on September 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


No, I realize that Arlington and DC are different. I just mean, why believe that if they build up the District, it won't just be more expensive housing for yuppies?

I'm being really cynical and just assuming that that's actually the main intention. What Bulgaroktonos says is basically why:

I also can't afford to buy a house here, so I guess maybe I should support lifting the restriction, but I don't. The housing stock in the city already has a ton of buildings that are lower than they could be under the law and I don't really believe that would change if the law changed.

High-rises aren't really going to lower apartment prices, because due to the construction cost and other factors, they'll only be marketed to the affluent, even if they're forced by zoning regulations to include a certain percentage of "affordable housing" (note: affordable housing can be described as a certain % below market rate, so building more expensive housing and then having some units below that is really just gaming the system). Since there are still plenty of areas in DC that aren't filled with apartment blocks, the issue of raising the height limit is really just a smokescreen for developers wanting to build in certain areas, not increasing the tax base or density of the city as a whole. Until the whole of DC is covered with 3 and 4 story apartment blocks, there's a definite option beyond "raise the height limit" and sprawl.

This is partially what makes the visualization link kind of silly. You've had a height limit in place for a hundred years, and only small portions of the city meet that height limit even now. However, when we talk about raising the height limit, we're going to pretend the whole city is instantly extruded to full height for the entire buildable envelope of every lot. I don't know if it's the Posts intention, but that's a tactic straight out of anti-development NIMBYism 101.
posted by LionIndex at 11:59 AM on September 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


High-rises aren't really going to lower apartment prices, because due to the construction cost and other factors, they'll only be marketed to the affluent,

I agree with you - higher-rise buildings themselves will not make a difference in housing affordability. But the point isn't that folks currently excluded from the urban core will actually move into high-rises in those neighborhoods. It's that by building more density in the core neighborhoods, space will open up in the neighborhoods peripheral to the core, which will be more affordable at the margin and allow people of less means to live there - a significant improvement from the status quo where exclusion means moving to PG County or Prince William or something - very far away from jobs and opportunities.

So, as an example - I live in Adams Morgan, a slightly-inconvenient-to-Metro, slightly-higher crime neighborhood that is a bit cheaper than other Ward 1 neighborhoods. More density in the core - which I'll define as south of Florida Avenue, west of 14th St - would lower prices in that area on the margin - not enough to make housing "affordable" in the absolute sense, but enough to make it affordable for me. When I moved, my apartment would open up at likely lower rent than what I pay for it now, enabling someone with slightly less income than me to move there. And the idea is that this effect would ripple across the District, so that folks with severely limited access to the urban core (because of distance, lack of transportation, or both) would be able to improve that and live closer to their jobs.
posted by downing street memo at 12:15 PM on September 14, 2013 [6 favorites]


We're British, and just watching the US HOUSE OF CARDS. Washington DC looks like London or Berlin, not like a US city. It might be good to keep that unique feel in the USA.
posted by alasdair at 12:18 PM on September 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


Um, there's plenty of affordable DC real estate. You just need to look east. Anacostia is quite reasonable.
posted by leotrotsky at 12:23 PM on September 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


We're British, and just watching the US HOUSE OF CARDS. Washington DC looks like London or Berlin, not like a US city.

Not to derail, but: that show, like most shows set in DC, is actually filmed in Baltimore.
posted by troika at 12:34 PM on September 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


However, when we talk about raising the height limit, we're going to pretend the whole city is instantly extruded to full height for the entire buildable envelope of every lot. I don't know if it's the Posts intention, but that's a tactic straight out of anti-development NIMBYism 101.

Yeah, that's why I appreciated the options in the visualization to show the 130-foot limit -- you really see how much space is still available even if you just build to the current rules.
posted by Etrigan at 12:37 PM on September 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I've lived through the opening of new rich people buildings lowering the rents in nearby reasonable people buildings. Here in Seattle, we had a brief period a couple of years ago when a bunch of new luxury apartment buildings opened at once on our Capitol Hill, and it caused rents here to stop going up / actually go slightly down for a little while. Of course, the stay didn't last for long; Seattle's rents are rapidly going the way of San Francisco's, and we'd have to build way more new tall buildings way more quickly than we're building them to come close to keeping up with demand.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:37 PM on September 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


downing street memo: "The other thing missing in all this is that, rhetoric about defense contractors to the contrary (c'mon, they mostly live in Virginia)"

Exactly why I imagine they'd be first in line to move into the district proper. At least right now, it's possible to stand on the southern side of the Potomac and see an unobstructed view of the city.

Like lots of commenters here, I am pretty pessimistic that more high rise apartments will lower housing costs except for residents who, by and large, can afford to pay the premium anyway. If you want to make things better for residents of Adams Morgan or Brentwood or Anacostia, you're gonna have to do something substantial in those neighborhoods.
posted by Apropos of Something at 12:40 PM on September 14, 2013


The Post's visualized buildings need more greebling.
posted by itstheclamsname at 1:00 PM on September 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


But the point isn't that folks currently excluded from the urban core will actually move into high-rises in those neighborhoods. It's that by building more density in the core neighborhoods, space will open up in the neighborhoods peripheral to the core, which will be more affordable at the margin and allow people of less means to live there

But for that to happen, people previously excluded from the core would have to move in, right? I agree that the effect you're describing works in principle, but if you want more affordable housing, it seems like the most directly effective way to achieve that is to actually build more affordable housing, which would basically be 3 story apartment blocks in outer areas of the district. Maybe the pent-up demand in DC for luxury apartments is way higher than I'm figuring, but I don't think a few high-rises here and there will have much effect on anything, nor do I think that they'll significantly alter any demand factors. Here in San Diego, we had a huge multi-family housing boom in our downtown core prior to the recession, and it didn't really change much that I could tell price-wise for outlying areas. Much of what was built was essentially intended to be pied-a-terre housing for the wealthy, or trying to lure yuppies back to living in the city, when they previously lived out of the city limits. For people living in the "streetcar suburb" areas, that didn't really have an effect. I think what actually has had an effect is the extension of our mass transit system (the trolley) running through Mission Valley, where there are now tons of apartment complexes, which are still sort of pricey. So, maybe what you do in DC is allow developers to break the current height limit in certain areas to build yuppie condos, but require that in doing so, they contribute a sizeable sum of money towards expansion of the Metro or other public transit options. Couple that with relaxation of zoning regulations in outer areas to allow for more density (or higher building limits, less required parking, etc.), and I'd guess that developers will start seeing those areas as likely development targets as well, and build more mid-range housing there.
posted by LionIndex at 1:01 PM on September 14, 2013


What a beautiful horizon of trees. Oh well; improve the economy first; then push the guilt serving environmental faux worship later.
Austin did this along Guadalupe and N. Lamar; the tall buildings give the impression of driving through a canyon, and people still head to their cars to drive 1-2 miles to work - DC professionals are no more willing or wanting to arrive at work wet wrinkled hot cold wind-blown stained by bus seats than anyone else.
Great visual, and it does a very clear job of showing what DC would look like in 20-40 years if the city wide limits are abated.
posted by buzzman at 1:20 PM on September 14, 2013


alasdair: We're British, and just watching the US HOUSE OF CARDS. Washington DC looks like London or Berlin, not like a US city. It might be good to keep that unique feel in the USA.

Baltimore accepts your compliment.
posted by spaltavian at 1:23 PM on September 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


it seems like the most directly effective way to achieve that is to actually build more affordable housing,

Two things: first, as I think we've established, there's no economic mechanism encouraging developers to build "affordable housing" along these lines. Imagine you're the CEO of a real estate firm. You have a choice between building an apartment building in an unfashionable, far-from transit neighborhood, or building one on 14th St. (yuppie central, at the moment). Which one do you pick? Which one gives you a higher return on your investment?

Second, and this is important - "affordable housing" isn't some special kind of building, it's any "housing" that's cheap. In the unfashionable neighborhoods I mentioned, there's plenty of "housing", it's just not cheap (or as cheap as it could/should be). If people migrate to new, denser neighborhoods closer to transit, the housing they vacate will become more "affordable" (and it's not like there's anything wrong with the housing stock in the less-fashionable areas).

DC professionals are no more willing or wanting to arrive at work wet wrinkled hot cold wind-blown stained by bus seats than anyone else.

Wait, what? DC has the highest public transit usage rate in the US, outside NYC.
posted by downing street memo at 1:24 PM on September 14, 2013 [6 favorites]


Will this lower my rent or help educate kids? I mean, if we all believed in high school economics it would help these things, right? But somehow the contractors and property owners always find a way to create more and more "luxury condos" and my rent keeps going up, so I'mma going to guess "no, this won't change a thing." So fuck 'em. Build up along the Silver Line to your heart's content and get off my lawn.
posted by Skwirl at 1:24 PM on September 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


(Or if it somehow magically gave me a vote in Congress, I might consider that, too.)
posted by Skwirl at 1:26 PM on September 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ha! You think Milk Chocolate City has the ugliest commercial architecture of any Western capital now? Wait till the buildings are half again as tall! BOO-Yaa!

(*ha ha*) All kidding aside, D.C. has some ass-ugly buildings. Walk down K Street from 23rd Street to 14th Street (or L or M) for a Whitman's Sampler of unimaginative, unattractive, my-kid-could-do-this architecture. There are still a few attractive older, non-USG buildings downtown, hemmed in by the atrocities of the '50s-'70s that are being gutted and made Modern™ while retaining their fundamental drabness-to-ugliness.
posted by the sobsister at 1:28 PM on September 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


downing street memo: "Also, from a political perspective, Arlington is not all high-rise urban - Ballston-Rosslyn and Pentagon City-Crystal City make up a relatively small part of the county's overall population. Mere blocks from those strips is out-and-out suburbia and they vote the way you'd assume they would."

What, you mean reliably and solidly democratic? As someone who grew up in the "suburbia" part of Arlington and was a baby canvassing footsoldier for both Arlingtonians for a Better County and the Democratic Party, I can assure you that there is not some bizarre system where it's a Democratic core and Republican "suburbia".

The design is part of a very well though out and effective urban planning system in Arlington, where high-density housing and business is focused along the metro lines, with limits reducing out from there, meaning that there can be both very walkable quasi-urban areas and green older suburbs, to the benefit of both humans and the environment. And most of the suburbs are also well interspersed with small-scale business areas and small apartment complexes, meaning they are also quite livable without cars or with only one (though that was less deliberate planning than not destroying the old streetcar suburb layout inherited from the early to mid 20th century.)

However, the fact is that those dense housing areas are not built for poor people; they are built for the well-off. So the idea that it would lower rents in DC is an illusion; if anything, it would make the city more attractive to the rich and push even more lower-income people out. I don't necessarily think some raising of the limits with sufficient respect to the monumental core is a bad idea, but it's primarily because it would help the District's tax base, which it badly needs. It's not going to help at all with retaining a diverse population.
posted by tavella at 1:31 PM on September 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Will this lower my rent or help educate kids?

Um, I mean, yes? More supply = lower rents, all things equal. More residences mean more property tax dollars, too, which improve schools. And the more educated, middle-class families remain in DC -instead of decamping to Fairfax for cheaper housing - the better DC public schools will be, too.

and my rent keeps going up, so I'mma going to guess "no, this won't change a thing." So fuck 'em. Build up along the Silver Line to your heart's content and get off my lawn.

Chances are, your rent actually isn't going up, thanks in large part to more housing supply coming online.
posted by downing street memo at 1:32 PM on September 14, 2013


Two things: first, as I think we've established, there's no economic mechanism encouraging developers to build "affordable housing" along these lines. Imagine you're the CEO of a real estate firm. You have a choice between building an apartment building in an unfashionable, far-from transit neighborhood, or building one on 14th St. (yuppie central, at the moment). Which one do you pick? Which one gives you a higher return on your investment?

Second, and this is important - "affordable housing" isn't some special kind of building, it's any "housing" that's cheap. In the unfashionable neighborhoods I mentioned, there's plenty of "housing", it's just not cheap (or as cheap as it could/should be). If people migrate to new, denser neighborhoods closer to transit, the housing they vacate will become more "affordable" (and it's not like there's anything wrong with the housing stock in the less-fashionable areas).


Right, I think we're saying the same thing here. I was saying that if you force the developers who want to break the current height limit in the core around 14th street to fund improvements to the metro system, the areas around those improvements then become more attractive areas for development of more housing, and that housing will more likely be targeted towards mid-range income levels. I think you'll get a lot more actual new units into the market by doing that. Basically, use the developers' desire to build in already attractive areas to leverage ways to make the less attractive areas more appealing. I just think building the luxury places downtown won't do much by itself.
posted by LionIndex at 1:32 PM on September 14, 2013


Tavella, I didn't mean "Republican", I meant "NIMBY".
posted by downing street memo at 1:35 PM on September 14, 2013


NIMBY? What is your evidence that that the people in say, the Orange Line Corridor, are any less NIMBY than the people a few blocks away? Arlington does have a NIMBY issue, but it's North county vs South, rather than metro line core vs outer suburbs.
posted by tavella at 1:43 PM on September 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


downing street memo: If you think I can afford those Class A market rents that you linked to, you haven't seen my paycheck.

My point was that my rent should be going down in theory, but it's not going down because of market segmentation. DC also has a crazy high cost-per-student, so higher property taxes may not be the magic bullet there either. DC also has a lot of opportunities for revenue, from speed cameras to tourism. Meanwhile, developers are getting all kinds of sweet heart deals and tax breaks so I kind of doubt that it will end up in higher revenue anyway. http://wamu.org/news/13/05/20/developers_fund_campaigns_score_subsidies
posted by Skwirl at 1:45 PM on September 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


I like the current height levels. Plus the DC council is in the back pocket of developers.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:46 PM on September 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


I can assure you that there is not some bizarre system where it's a Democratic core and Republican "suburbia".

Just ask Romney.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:48 PM on September 14, 2013


I live and work in DC and I'm in favor of lifting the restrictions. In addition to the social/class implications mentioned above, I think it's a good way of bringing commerce into DC. I know that not everyone is a fan of defense contractors, but if all those big tech companies came into DC proper from Rosslyn and, especially, further out in VA like Reston, Leesburg, and Sterling, they'd bring more money into the city. I'd hope that would help improve our infrastructure and also make life better for small business owners based in the city.

It also will make DC feel like more of a "proper" city. We have very few living-working neighborhoods here in DC and the surrounding area, and if some of the new buildings offer living space in the "downtown" parts of DC, and/or bring commercial space to some of the more residential ones, I think that it would liven up our culture and alter the current trend of downtown DC emptying out on nights and weekends.

We do have a lot of really beautiful historic buildings and I think if I were making the decisions I'd probably consider not lifting the restriction in certain neighborhoods. Georgetown and Capitol Hill come to mind.
posted by capricorn at 1:49 PM on September 14, 2013


It's long been my view that you should look at who is pushing for a particular change (no matter what it is).

If it's a mix of different groups working together, it'll probably benefit most people, even though some individuals might be worse off.

If it's one particular group trying to get a rule or law altered, then they'll probably benefit and everyone else will get screwed.

So, in that vein, are there neighborhood associations in DC? Have they been included in land use planning?
Have there been land-use studies? Are they going to streamline the zoning at the same time. Are there infill compatibility standards? A vacant land survey?

Because city design in a complex web of interlocking parts. You can't just change one aspect (height of building) without looking at the consequences to the rest of the organism.
If you do, you're going to end up with a city that no one likes, developers or residents.
posted by madajb at 2:07 PM on September 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


I read the news today, oh boy: the tallest skyscraper in the world is going to be erected by the bin Laden family. Irony comes in many flavors.
posted by kozad at 2:09 PM on September 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


new development should be concentrated in Virginia, to ensure that the state flips to reliably blue.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 2:17 PM on September 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


So, in that vein, are there neighborhood associations in DC? Have they been included in land use planning?

Yes. If anything, they are overly-included. Read about our ANC system here.
posted by downing street memo at 2:37 PM on September 14, 2013


The concept of "filtering" in housing is what downing is talking about here, but it's far from a sure thing that more housing starts and more condos will actually lead to more affordable rents. Inclusionary zoning is a new addition to D.C.'s portfolio of requirements and incentives for developers, but rezoning the entire city's height maximum makes it much harder for the city to use density bonuses as incentives.
posted by spamandkimchi at 2:39 PM on September 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Given the state of our nation, it's only fitting that gigantic glass and steel high-rises housing private industry should tower over the homes of public institutions. Let's go ahead sell naming rights to the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument while we're at it. C'mon, I'm ready for the endgame.
posted by entropicamericana at 2:40 PM on September 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm surprised at the "European feel" comments about DC (having grown up in VA and made plenty of trips to the city, having lived in London, Boston, and NYC). Boston and NYC have much more European feel to me, you know, with the people all walking around. There are pockets of walking around in DC but it's not the same.
posted by sweetkid at 2:48 PM on September 14, 2013


> DC .... raise

Perfect opportunity to build a giant parabolic multifaceted mirror shape, ya know. They want to build up, just require the buildings contribute to an overall design. Orient all the relevant surfaces and windows, buildings each turning one side to contribute to shape a giant bowl around the capitol, so no view is lost -- from anywhere inside it you can still see the Capitol.

Andlooking south toward the sun, reflecting whatever it reflected so they sum up to a hot spot, or else sum up to a geosync focus for satellite transmission ... whatever.

After that building in London melted some car parts, and several other instances where happenstance focused a big span of windows --- how can city planners miss this opportunity in a place where visibility has been paramount and symbolic --- everyone could see the government, that's democracy.

Now they want a commercial wall around it?

dang ....
posted by hank at 3:08 PM on September 14, 2013


Inclusionary zoning is a new addition to D.C.'s portfolio of requirements and incentives for developers, but rezoning the entire city's height maximum makes it much harder for the city to use density bonuses as incentives.

That's what I was talking about earlier with the affordable housing where "affordable" is defined as a certain percentage below market rate. If they're increasing the height limit in areas that are already expensive, and the market rate is thus at a "luxury" level, the affordable housing provided could then just be at an "upper middle class" level, not something the average person will be able to afford. It depends on how the statutes are worded and what constitutes the area considered for defining the base market rate, but obviously, if you're building units that are driving the prices up in an already expensive area, the benefit isn't going to be all that great.
posted by LionIndex at 4:11 PM on September 14, 2013


We have very few living-working neighborhoods here in DC and the surrounding area, and if some of the new buildings offer living space in the "downtown" parts of DC, and/or bring commercial space to some of the more residential ones, I think that it would liven up our culture and alter the current trend of downtown DC emptying out on nights and weekends.

Historically, this has more to do with the progressive abandonment of the city by the affluent and middle class starting in the 1920s, and with the federal government's subequent acquiring and redeveloping of large swaths of downtown D.C.. The area now occupied by the Federal Triangle and the court / office complex surrounding Judiciary Square are two good examples - both were vibrant mixed residential / commercial in the 19th and early 20th cs. The height restriction was not an impediment to this.

. . . alter the current trend of downtown DC emptying out on nights and weekends.

Compare, say, Gallery Place / Chinatown, 14th & U, or 8th St., SE to how they were in the 1990s, and it could be easily argued that this is already happening.
posted by ryanshepard at 5:30 PM on September 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


I read the news today, oh boy: the tallest skyscraper in the world is going to be erected by the bin Laden family.

Haha, how horrible. Is this shit really true? It must be: we let them all leave the country after 9/11.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:41 PM on September 14, 2013


a significant improvement from the status quo where exclusion means moving to PG County or Prince William or something - very far away from jobs and opportunities.


I live in Westmoreland County, a good couple hour drive from DC. There are people further out than me that work in DC. They commute.

Most of DC workers are commuters, they aren't going to move into DC even if there are more apartments.

Personally, I like DC how it is, and I would hate to see it full of skyscrapers.
posted by SuzySmith at 11:50 PM on September 14, 2013


I read the news today, oh boy: the tallest skyscraper in the world is going to be erected by the bin Laden family.

Kingdom Tower^. The Saudi Binladin Group is the main contractor, though apparently only part (1/6ish) of the ownership combine. The projected height will be 1km. SBG is, according to some, the largest construction firm in the world, and previously constructed the Mecca Clock Tower Hotel^, currently the 2nd tallest skyscraper in the world.

If you want an image of a massive skyscraper lording it cartoonishly over low-rise historical structures, the Clock Tower is your building.
posted by dhartung at 1:12 AM on September 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Does Frank Lloyd Wrights's estate know about the Kingdom Tower? Because it seems to me they might be interested.
posted by entropicamericana at 6:16 AM on September 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wow that Mecca Royal Clock Tower Hotel is comically ugly. This wide perspective shows just how it dwarfs the surrounding landscape, diminishing the Kaaba in particular. I get the desire to have high density hotel facilities nearby but those oafish buildings on the sides are even worse. And the clock face is ridiculously outsized. I wonder if it looks as awful in person as in photographs?
posted by Nelson at 6:41 AM on September 15, 2013


When I lived in DC, I was sympathetic to the argument that the height restrictions should be raised, but it was also grating how frequently it came from new lawyers angry that living in the Southeast sucked because it was so hard to be able to drive to work.

The idea that sacking height limits to allow more building in metro DC will somehow lower housing prices because reasons is just laughable. It's like saying that GM could cut the price in half for a new car by making twice as many. Developers want to build giant condos and skyscrapers along subway lines because that is where premium housing placement lies. It's where people want to live, regardless of whether or not they can afford to live there.

Ironically I now live in Atlanta, where as far as I know there is no height limit issue and construction in the city rivals the Winchester Mystery House. And yet the same model holds: giant skyscrapers aren't being built westward or in the Southeast; the bulk of construction has been premium condos along the main road of Peachtree Street and the complete overhaul of Inman Park to create expensive housing along the new Beltline walk/bike path that wraps through the city.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 10:15 AM on September 15, 2013


As a VA resident, I'm all for it if it were to mean either

A. More people who actually worked in DC would live closer to/in DC, instead of driving in from as far south as Manassas and fucking up 66 every morning

B. It inspired DC to have an actual working subway system, instead of the current DC Metro, the Internet Explorer of city transportation.

C. It led to the city not completely shutting down at around 3 am.


I mean, it WON'T, but
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 12:49 PM on September 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Tomorrowful: "I can't think of any seriously tall buildings that "lord over" historic structures."

Blazecock Pileon: "Everything around City Hall?"

City Hall? It's the 9th tallest building in the city. There aren't any taller buildings within the surrounding few blocks. Liberty Place is closest...it lords over City Hall, really?
posted by desuetude at 9:46 PM on September 15, 2013


Just my experience from a metro-Boston context...

The operation of housing stock in terms of classic microeconomics doesn't work until the extreme long-term. Ie, the concerns with luxury housing are legit.

One of the reasons for this is that there are key factors which get set by the developer (condo vs. rental, asking price, # of bedrooms, interior design, parking). These are 'sticky', especially during the early part of a project's return on investment.

The other big reason is sort of related: the average profile of rental property owner in a place. Eg, in Boston the metro area's economy was bad enough during the period 1950-2000 so that the real estate scene wasn't totally dominated by a professional rentier class. Also because the pressure on housing decreased significantly over this time there wasn't much redevelopment of the existing fabric of 2-3 family housing (West End being one of the exceptions).

Half of this is obvious, ie, that the aggregation of things leads to a more sophisticated management of property and the maximum prices (sometimes even above equilibrium). The second half is more subtle IMO. Property managers (I use that term loosely) that only take care of 1 or 2 units are much more personable with their tenants. Especially in areas that have strong tenant laws. They tend to be more risk averse and value a trusted tenant at a lower rate than in maximizing rent levels at a given time.

Some might also make the case that the evidence is convincing that people with less money share more of what they have. When the landlord's income is closer to his tenants then he is more likely to empathize with their position, especially if it fits his risk profile.
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 3:43 PM on September 22, 2013


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