Commentary

The Myth of the Skyscraper and the End of an Era

National Public Radio recently noted the closing of a 52 floor office tower in downtown Dallas, and took this symbolic act to muse on the future of downtowns. More specifically, is the era of the high-rise office building over?

It’s an interesting question, and I mused on this a while ago on my blog at Planetizen.com in a post titled “The Myth of the Urban Core.” The short answer: Yes, but the hyper dense downtown and associated high-rises were historical artifacts to begin with and unsustainable. High-rise office buildings were products of several forces coming together all at once: revolutionary increases in wealth, very low mobility (no cars), and rapid improvement transportation technologies that move people vertically (elevators). Their continued construction in the post-World War II ere had more to do with ego and urban politics than economic value or efficiency.

It’s a debate long overdue, and may well change the way we perceive policies such as Smart Growth.

Samuel R. Staley, Ph.D. is a senior research fellow at Reason Foundation and managing director of the DeVoe L. Moore Center at Florida State University in Tallahassee where he teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in urban planning, regulation, and urban economics. Prior to joining Florida State, Staley was director of urban growth and land-use policy for Reason Foundation where he helped establish its urban policy program in 1997.