Not that you would ever want to, but let’s say for the sake of argument that you needed to start a brawl in the nation’s capital among an otherwise reputable gathering of Washington, D.C., landowners, urban planners, developers, the heads of large trade organizations, apartment dwellers and ordinary homeowners.
You couldn’t go far wrong bringing up the capital’s height limit on buildings, basically 20 feet higher than the width of the street the building faces.
The happy result is that there are great vistas of the monuments, the streets are light and airy, there are plenty of downtown trees because the sunlight can reach the streets and the city has developed a lively and pleasant sidewalk cafe culture.
The unhappy result is that rents are high, large spaces are hard to come by, the downtown architecture runs heavily to nearly identical glass cubes and the landowners are missing big bucks because they can’t maximize the buildings they’d like to erect on their holdings and the District of Columbia can’t collect the higher taxes the larger buildings would pay.
The National Capital Planning Commission is about to propose lifting the heights limits on new buildings on the periphery of the city but the commissioners face a highly skeptical local population that likes the way things are. “Manhattanization” is a dirty word to them.
It seems silly but the tallest privately owned building in the capital of the country that gave us skyscrapers is only 164 feet in height and even that was a scandal when it was built in 1894, prompting Congress to quickly pass the Height of Buildings Act of 1899.
Based on current building height guidelines, we’re looking at 12 stories. The residents seem to like it that way and have fought the monied interests to a standstill on raising the height.
Next time you’re in Washington and the gathering starts to slow down, offer as your considered opinion, “There’s nothing wrong with this town that a few 60-story mixed use buildings on all that wasted space by the Lincoln Memorial couldn’t fix.”
Have your spouse waiting outside in the car with the motor running.