Housing Complex

How to Increase Height Limits? Ask Austin.

Downtown Austin in 30 years. Not terrifying!

On the radio with Kojo Nnamdi yesterday, Brookings scholar and developer Chris Leinberger and Post architecture critic Roger Lewis went over the whys and hows of increasing height limits in D.C. Of course, it's all still very hypothetical, and I'm really, really trying to talk less about it.

But the thing is, raising height limits responsibly isn't some terrifying and mysterious idea. It's already happening. The city of Austin, Texas has drafted a plan for its downtown core that will creating specific zones for shorter buildings and others where developers can go as high as they want—in exchange for community benefits in the form of affordable housing, historic preservation, or simple payments. The plan also includes standards for design at the street level and building setbacks as they rise higher, placing a high priority on the pedestrian experience.

And why do this in the first place? In the introduction to its Density and Design section, planners write:

Downtown is an area of the City that benefits greatly from density. The close proximity of buildings and activities to one another provides a unique vibrancy, creative energy and a distinctive sense of place. The concentration of economic activity contributes to the fiscal viability and the health of the City, and a compact and dense Downtown is a keystone of regional sustainability.

That's why. And it would apply equally well to nodes elsewhere in D.C. as well, if we could create robust and practical plans like Austin's.

  • JM

    "Downtown is an area of the City that benefits greatly from density. The close proximity of buildings and activities to one another provides a unique vibrancy, creative energy and a distinctive sense of place."

    Which is more vibrant, U Street or Crystal City? Paris or downtown Houston? So "vibrancy" really doesn't require tall skyscrapers, does it? And "density" is sometimes just a proxy for packing more 9-5 officeworkers in taller concrete blocks, rather than some magical key to urb-topia.

    But... I'm glad at least that you are talking less about this!

  • D

    DC can get much denser without changing the height limit. We don't need to give up on all of the green space that we currently enjoy either. We should build more dense and more mixed-use around transportation hubs, which I feel the area is moving towards anyways. People will fight it (think Tenleytown), so it won't be easy, but it is I'm guessing a way easier fight than raising the height limits. Also, like JM mentioned, tall doesn't necessarily equal vibrant.

    Feel free to write more about this, editorialize to your heart's content, but I'd ask that you be less simplistic in your thinking.

  • Hillman

    The difference is Austin has a lot more qualified people in city planning, and a much more cooperative spirit toward private developers.

    Austin is granola-crunchy liberal much like DC, but they also really have their act together, city government-wise, which DC doesn't.

    Also the housing stock in Austin is different. Their trendy neighborhoods have a lot of single family homes. So in a way they mentally differentiate between 'downtown living' and trendy in-town living that doesn't require a condo or rowhouse.

    They have TONS of greenspace, by design.

    Plus a nude beach.

    Can we have a nude beach please?

  • Drez

    Meh.
    I like the aforementioned idea of density being concentrated near transit nodes. As far as a nude beach goes, I'd happily settle for the resurrection of train service to the Eastern Shore. Damn those rails to trails folks!

  • http://alexblock.net Alex B.

    Lots of disappointingly predictable call-ins to Kojo...

  • crin

    What's the current vacancy rate where eliminating height limit is proposed?

  • http://www.growthmax.com James McDonald

    What is the maximum height limit that is there now?

    Thanks.

    James McDonald
    CEO
    http://www.growthmax.com

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