Building Up With Grace

High rises don't have to be soulless. In "Density is Destiny" I wrote about the importance of density for economic growth. The way to have density and still have space for people in their homes is to build up. I also tried my hand in "Density is Destiny" at sketching a possible design for pleasant high-rises that I think can ultimately be built at non-luxury prices. Anna Baddeley's article linked above talks about some innovative architectural designs for high rises that I suspect might be at the higher end, but might become more affordable with technological progress. 

Urban density contributes to creativity and therefore to economic growth. Moreover, greater density through relaxing height restrictions is important for helping those with lower incomes and therefore for social justice. Experience has shown that it is very difficult to move good jobs to people. But it is easy for people to move to where good jobs are if affordable housing is available. The phrase "affordable housing" has often been used for a token amount of subsidized housing. But the principles of supply and demand mean that the only way to have affordable housing for the masses is to allow construction of many more units.

High density does not mean that height restrictions need to be removed everywhere within an urban area. That can be some low-density subdivisions for the rich folks. But in my view social justice requires that every metropolitan area has some large section with essentially no height restrictions for residential buildings (other than those genuinely required by earthquake concerns) and very frequent and convenient bus service from the high section of the city to jobs in the rest of the city.

It is far from certain that we will realize the social justice requirement of a high section to every city. But I want to encourage social-justice-minded architects to prepare for that hoped-for day by thinking about graceful and pleasant designs that can give good homes to people at a wide range of different income levels. Showing in principle how good high rises can be even for those of modest means could do a lot to make it politically feasible to shift policies toward letting more people into our most vibrant cities.