Skyscrapers & the Wealthy

Growing up not out is the referred mantra of the environmentalists but the downside may be very detrimental to everyone except the wealthy, as a recent article: “Does Inequality Promote Skyscrapers?” from Governing Magazine notes.

An excerpt.

Like tall, new, elegantly dressed kids in class, they poke their shoulders and heads above their classmates, peering out over and into Central Park. There is the just-completed One57, a 1,004-foot-tall building where a duplex inside its shimmering, multicolored glass walls costs $90 million. There’s the under-construction 432 Park, designed by South American architect Rafael Viñoly, whose top floor at 1,398 feet will be higher than that of the Empire State Building’s. And there’s the planned 1,550-foot Nordstrom Tower, where the luxury department store will take up the first eight floors and residences most of the rest.

It’s the latest trend in New York City: “super tall” residential skyscrapers. A half dozen or so, maybe more, are going up, and they are remaking the city’s skyline. Not many other American cities are joining New York in this trend, but it’s a different story across the waters.

Skyscraper construction has exploded over the last decade, particularly in Asia and the Middle East. China now has more than 1,200 skyscrapers, according to the nonprofit Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat. These include close to 300 giants more than 200 meters high (656 feet) and 24 super tall ones that are more than 300 meters tall, roughly 1,000 feet. In the United Arab Emirates, a country of just 8 million people, there are more than 250 skyscrapers, of which 20 are super tall ones. Most of them are in the emirate of Dubai, including the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world….

In China, the richest 10 percent make 21 times more than the poorest 10 percent, according to United Nations statistics. In the United States, that number is 16 times. In Germany it’s 7 times, and in Japan, it’s 4.5 times. Germany and Japan have few skyscrapers. China and the United States have a lot. Is it any accident then that China and New York City, which have perhaps the greatest distance between their rich and poor, also lead the world in skyscraper construction?

I don’t think it is. I first wrote about this issue back in 2006, and what I noticed then was that nations that have relatively equitable incomes, much more so than the United States, have few skyscrapers, whereas nations with great wealth and great poverty have more.

I believe a city’s skyline is a physical portrait of the distribution of wealth and thus political power in a society. For example, cities and countries where the middle and lower classes have more political power tend to regulate skyscrapers out of existence. As cool as 1,000-foot buildings may look, they don’t make particularly good neighbors. They blot out light and air to surrounding properties, and with them usually comes soaring real estate values.

About David H Lukenbill

I am a native of Sacramento, as are my wife and daughter. I am a consultant to nonprofit organizations, and have a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Behavior and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from the University of San Francisco. We live along the American River with two cats and all the wild critters we can feed. I am the founding president of the American River Parkway Preservation Society and currently serve as the CFO and Senior Policy Director. I also volunteer as the President of The Lampstand Foundation, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2003.
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