Can Urbanists Learn to Love D.C.’s Height Limit? New article at ElevationDC

I’ve got a new article up at ElevationDC, a new(ish) magazine that covers real estate, development, and city-planning issues in and around the District.

http://elevationdcmedia.com/features/HeightLimitQA_040213.aspx

I brought two urban planners into a conversation about D.C.’s Height of Buildings Act, the famous 1910 law that limits building heights to no more than 20 feet taller than the width of the adjacent street—up to a maximum of 90 feet on residential streets, 130 ft on commercial, and 160 on Pennsylvania Avenue. (NB The act doesn’t specifically set the height of the Capitol dome as the upper limit, as many people assume, but the effect is the same).

For awhile I’ve been dissatisfied with the discourse surrounding the limit. I think its proponents tend to argue for it using the logic that it makes the city feel less like a city, and assume that’s a good thing that everybody wants. But of course, if you like cities, that’s not exactly a point in D.C.’s favor (as my many NYC-based friends have, uh, never hesitated to tell me). So I’ve been wondering for awhile whether someone could defend the Height Act from an urbanist perspective, talking about how it makes D.C. a better city. Ed McMahon of the Urban Land Institute volunteered to do so, and I think he does a great job. David Schleicher, a law professor at George Mason, agreed to argue the opposite viewpoint: that the Height Act is a drag on development, that it pushes up rents, and so on. The conversation lasted almost an hour and was pretty great…I wish I could have printed more of it! Either way, I’m very happy to have my first published clip on urbanism and city planning.

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