In the early s, the New York of slums, tenements, and Gilded Age mansions was transformed into a city of skyscrapers, as builders like Lefcourt erected nearly , new housing units each year, enabling the city to grow and to stay reasonably affordable. He celebrated by opening a national bank bearing his own name. I suspect that Lefcourt, like many developers, cared more about his structural legacy than about cash. Those structures helped house the creative minds that still make New York special. By building up, Lefcourt made the lives of garment workers far more pleasant and created new spaces for creative minds.
The anti-growth activists argued that unless heights were restricted to feet or less, Fifth Avenue would become a canyon, with ruinous results for property values and the city as a whole. Similar arguments have been made by the enemies of change throughout history. The chair of the commission was a better architect than prognosticator, as density has suited Fifth Avenue quite nicely. In , between Broadway and Nassau Street, in the heart of downtown New York, the Equitable Life Assurance Society constructed a monolith that contained well over a million square feet of office space and, at about feet, cast a seven-acre shadow on the city.
Editorial Reviews. About the Author. David I. Harvie is a freelance film editor, and a regular Eiffel: The Man Who Rebuilt Babel - Kindle edition by David I Harvie. Download it once and read it on your Kindle device, PC, phones or tablets. This is the story of Gustave Eiffel () and of the conception, and controversial construction of the tower that bears his name, perhaps the most famous.
The building became a rallying cry for the enemies of height, who wanted to see a little more sun. The code changed the shape of buildings, but it did little to stop the construction boom of the s. Really tall buildings provide something of an index of irrational exuberance. The builders of the Chrysler Building, 40 Wall Street, and the Empire State Building engaged in a great race to produce the tallest structure in the world.
New York slowed its construction of skyscrapers after , and its regulations became ever more complex.
In , the City Planning Commission passed a new zoning resolution that significantly increased the limits on building. The resulting page code replaced a simple classification of space—business, residential, unrestricted—with a dizzying number of different districts, each of which permitted only a narrow range of activities.
There were 13 types of residential district, 12 types of manufacturing district, and no fewer than 41 types of commercial district. Each type of district narrowly classified the range of permissible activities. Commercial art galleries were forbidden in residential districts but allowed in manufacturing districts, while noncommercial art galleries were forbidden in manufacturing districts but allowed in residential districts.
Art-supply stores were forbidden in residential districts and some commercial districts. Parking-space requirements also differed by district. In an R5 district, a hospital was required to have one off-street parking spot for every five beds, but in an R6 district, a hospital had to have one space for every eight beds. The picayune detail of the code is exemplified by its control of signs:.
The code also removed the system of setbacks and replaced it with a complex system based on the floor-to-area ratio, or FAR , which is the ratio of interior square footage to ground area. A maximum FAR of two, for example, meant that a developer could put a two-story building on his entire plot or a four-story building on half of the plot. In residential districts R1, R2, and R3, the maximum floor-to-area ratio was 0.
In R9 districts, the maximum FAR was about 7. The height restriction was eased for builders who created plazas or other public spaces at the front of the building. While the standard building created by the code was a wedding cake that started at the sidewalk, the standard building created by the code was a glass-and-steel slab with an open plaza in front.
After World War II, New York made private development more difficult by overregulating construction and rents, while building a bevy of immense public structures, such as Stuyvesant Town and Lincoln Center. In , Jacobs published her masterpiece, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, which investigates and celebrates the pedestrian world of midth-century New York. She argued that mixed-use zoning fostered street life, the essence of city living. But Jacobs liked protecting old buildings because of a confused piece of economic reasoning.
The first is a second use of the word "come. An angered Lord of the Heavens called upon the inhabitants of the sky, who destroyed the tower and scattered its inhabitants; the story was not related to either a flood or the confusion of languages, although Frazer connects its construction and the scattering of the giants with the Tower of Babel. On leaving this famous house of education, he was received at the Central School of Arts and Manufactures, which he left in to work at one of his uncles who owned a chemical factory. A terrible chasm has opened up in French society, dramatically exemplified by a story that an acquaintance told me. The 17th-century historian Verstegan provides yet another figure — quoting Isidore, he says that the tower was 5, paces high, or 7. According to David Livingstone , the Africans whom he met living near Lake Ngami in had such a tradition, but with the builders' heads getting "cracked by the fall of the scaffolding". My Mother and I were able to visit Sydney during a few hours; we went to the Opera — which made me understand I still had to improve my English-speaking skills, as I spent ten minutes asking a stewart for a soup while he was laughing his heart out and probably wondering why this Frenchie was asking for a soap — and saw the Harbour Bridge.
She thought that preserving older, shorter structures would somehow keep prices affordable for budding entrepreneurs. Protecting an older one-story building instead of replacing it with a story building does not preserve affordability. Indeed, opposing new building is the surest way to make a popular area unaffordable. An increase in the supply of houses, or anything else, almost always drives prices down, while restricting the supply of real estate keeps prices high.
A great deal of evidence links the supply of space with the cost of real estate. Price increases in gentrifying older areas will be muted because of new construction. Growth, not height restrictions and a fixed building stock, keeps space affordable and ensures that poorer people and less profitable firms can stay and help a thriving city remain successful and diverse.
I n , in response to the outcry over the razing of the original Pennsylvania Station, which was beautiful and much beloved, Mayor Robert Wagner established the Landmarks Preservation Commission. In , despite vigorous opposition from the real-estate industry, the commission became permanent. Initially, this seemed like a small sop to preservationists.
Yet, like entropy, the reach of governmental agencies often expands over time, so that a mild, almost symbolic group can come to influence vast swaths of a city. By the end of , the commission had jurisdiction over 27, landmarked buildings and historic districts. Tom Wolfe, who has written brilliantly about the caprices of both New York City and the real-estate industry, wrote a 3,word op-ed in The New York Times warning the landmarks commission against approving the project.
From the preservationist perspective, building up in one area reduces the pressure to take down other, older buildings. One could quite plausibly argue that if members of the landmarks commission have decided that a building can be razed, then they should demand that its replacement be as tall as possible. The cost of restricting development is that protected areas have become more expensive and more exclusive. In , people who lived in historic districts in Manhattan were on average almost 74 percent wealthier than people who lived outside such areas.
Almost three-quarters of the adults living in historic districts had college degrees, as opposed to 54 percent outside them. People living in historic districts were 20 percent more likely to be white. The well-heeled historic-district denizens who persuade the landmarks commission to prohibit taller structures have become the urban equivalent of those restrictive suburbanites who want to mandate five-acre lot sizes to keep out the riffraff. Again, the basic economics of housing prices are pretty simple—supply and demand.
New York and Mumbai and London all face increasing demand for their housing, but how that demand affects prices depends on supply. Building enough homes eases the impact of rising demand and makes cities more affordable. In the post-war boom years between and , Manhattan issued permits for an average of more than 11, new housing units each year.
Fewer new homes meant higher prices; between and , the median price of a Manhattan housing unit increased by percent in constant dollars. The other key factor in housing economics is the cost of building a home. That low cost explains why Atlanta and Dallas and Houston are able to supply so much new housing at low prices, and why so many Americans have ended up buying affordable homes in those places. Building up is more costly, especially when elevators start getting involved. And erecting a skyscraper in New York City involves additional costs site preparation, legal fees, a fancy architect that can push the price even higher.
Just as the cost of a big factory can be covered by a sufficiently large production run, the cost of site preparation and a hotshot architect can be covered by building up. The land costs something, but in a story building with one 1,square-foot unit per floor, each unit is using only 30 square feet of Manhattan—less than a thousandth of an acre.
At those heights, the land costs become pretty small. Yet you can buy a beautiful condominium with a lake view for roughly half the cost of a similar unit in Manhattan. The forest of cranes along Lake Michigan keeps Chicago affordable. Most people who fight to stop a new development think of themselves as heroes, not villains. The problem is that all those independent decisions to prohibit construction add up. Zoning rules, air rights, height restrictions, and landmarks boards together form a web of regulation that has made building more and more difficult.
The increasing wave of regulations was, until the Bloomberg administration, making New York shorter. But less than 40 percent of the buildings put up in the s were that tall. The growth in housing supply determines not only prices but the number of people in a city. The statistical relationship between new building and population growth within a given area is almost perfect, so that when an area increases its housing stock by 1 percent, its population rises by almost exactly that proportion.
As a result, when New York or Boston or Paris restricts construction, its population will be smaller. If the restrictions become strong enough, then a city can even lose population, despite rising demand, as wealthier, smaller families replace poorer, larger ones. Yet my neighborhood looked nothing like low-rise Greenwich Village.
I grew up surrounded by white glazed towers built after World War II to provide affordable housing for middle-income people like my parents. The neighborhood may not have been as charming as Greenwich Village, but it had plenty of fun restaurants, quirky stores, and even-quirkier pedestrians.
The streets were reasonably safe. It was certainly a functioning, vibrant urban space, albeit one with plenty of skyscrapers. W hen Baron Haussmann thoroughly rebuilt Paris in the midth century at the behest of Napoleon III, he did things unthinkable in a more democratic age: He evicted vast numbers of the poor, turning their homes into the wide boulevards that made Paris monumental. He lopped off a good chunk of the Luxembourg Gardens to create city streets.
He spent 2. All of that spending and upheaval turned Paris from an ancient and somewhat dilapidated city of great poverty into an urban resort for the growing haute bourgeoisie. He also made Paris a bit taller, boosting the Bourbon-era height limit on buildings from 54 feet to 62 feet. Two years later, Les Halles, a popular open-air marketplace, was wiped away and the futuristic Centre Pompidou museum was begun. But these changes rankled those Parisians who had gotten used to a static city.
The Montparnasse Tower was widely loathed, and the lesson drawn was that skyscrapers must never again mar central Paris. Les Halles was sorely missed, in much the same way that many New Yorkers mourned the demise of the old Penn Station.
In , a height limit of 83 feet was imposed in central Paris. But while these rules restricted height in old Paris, they let buildings grow on the periphery. It has about 35 million square feet of commercial space and the feel of an American office park. Except for the distant view of the Arc, administrative assistants drinking lattes in a Starbucks there could easily be in a bigger version of Crystal City, Virginia.
In some senses, it is an inspired solution. The sector enables Paris to grow, while keeping the old city pristine. The natural thing is to have tall buildings in the center, where demand is greatest, not on the edge. Average people are barred from living in central Paris just as surely as if the city had put up a gate and said that no middle-income people can enter. Keep the core areas historic, but let millions of square feet be built nearby.
As long as building in the high-rise district is sufficiently unfettered, then that area provides a safety valve for the region as a whole. Paris, however, is an extreme case. In much of the rest of the world, the argument for restricting development is far weaker. And nowhere have limits on development done more harm than in the Indian mega-city of Mumbai. The problems caused by arbitrarily restricting height in the developing world are far more serious, because they handicap the metropolises that help turn desperately poor nations into middle-income countries.
Since poverty often means death in the developing world, and since restricting city growth ensures more poverty, it is not hyperbole to say that land-use planning in India can be a matter of life and death. Mumbai is a city of astonishing human energy and entrepreneurship, from the high reaches of finance and film to the jam-packed spaces of the Dharavi slum. All of this private talent deserves a public sector that performs the core tasks of city government—like providing sewers and safe water—without overreaching and overregulating. One curse of the developing world is that governments take on too much and fail at their main responsibilities.
A country that cannot provide clean water for its citizens should not be in the business of regulating film dialogue. The public failures in Mumbai are as obvious as the private successes. There is a train that could speed your trip, but few Westerners have the courage to brave its crowds during rush hour. In , more than three people each working day were pushed out of that train to their death. Average commute times in Mumbai are roughly 50 minutes each way, which is about double the average American commute. The most cost-effective means of opening up overcrowded city streets would be to follow Singapore and charge more for their use.
If you give something away free, people will use too much of it. After all, Singapore was not wealthy in , when it started charging drivers for using downtown streets. Like Singapore, Mumbai could just require people to buy paper day licenses to drive downtown, and require them to show those licenses in their windows. Politics, however, and not technology, would make this strategy difficult.
In , Mumbai fixed a maximum floor-to-area ratio of 1. One of the largest real-estate developers in Israel revealed plans for the soon-to-be tallest building in Israel that looks surprisingly similar to images of what the Tower of Babel may have looked like. The new tower will take its place next to the iconic circle, square and triangle towers that make up the Azrieli Complex. By building the Spiral Tower, the Azrieli Group will outdo itself as they built the current tallest building in Israel, The Azrieli Sarona Tower which stands feet high with 53 floors, just two years ago.
Six underground parking levels, covering an area of 45, square meters, will be built at the base of the structure, in addition to a commercial floor connected directly to the light rail.
According to the press release, the architects took their inspiration from nature as well as Jewish heritage. The main challenge for the initiators and architects was to create harmony between the three iconic towers that form Azrieli Center and the new tower, an impressive, one-of-a-kind structure which stands on its own. The design also draws inspiration from ancient biblical scrolls and the way they unfurl upwards. More cynical critics of the design might draw a comparison between the elegant design presented by the developers and certain depictions of the Biblical Tower of Babel.
Though the Biblical account contains no details other than it builders aspirations for it to reach great heights. Traditional Jewish sources provide additional details. Some modern scholars have associated the Tower of Babel with known structures, notably the Etemenanki, a ziggurat dedicated to the Mesopotamian god Marduk built by Babylonian King Nabopolassar in BCE. Indeed, the Spiral Tower Design closely resembles a ziggurat, an ancient structure from the Middle East built as a terraced compound of successively receding stories or levels.
Yisrael Rosenberg is an author who has a powerful connection to the spiritual implications of construction. The fact that they envisioned a Torah scroll while designing the building is remarkable. Rosenberg noted that the builders of the Tower of Babel came together to challenge heaven, hence their punishment was to be divided and scattered.