Great points by Senior Planner @NLamontagne re: hyperbole+misinformation re: towers…
Steve, many good points here, but since you’ve called me out, I feel compelled to add my perspective. And while some of these issues really do need to be addressed (especially the prevalence of the glass curtain wall and the excess exterior glazing popular in the Vancouver-style residential tower), I still stand by my point about mid-rise fetishes and don’t buy the apocalyptic anti-tower argument.
Its true that towers consume a lot of energy - and we need to be hyperaware of the intricate interrelationship of building and energy - but they also house a lot of people or a lot of economic activity. In fact, as I know you appreciate, almost all buildings consume a lot of energy and generally, the lower the density, the higher the per-capita energy use. And towers do rely on some energy-intensive systems, although elevators are pretty much a drop in the bucket. Sure they may be high as a single-piece of equipment, but most modern elevators use counterbalance and have energy recovery systems on descent (much like a prius). The big culprits in most large buildings (high and mid-rise) is the underground parking (lit, conditioned, and ventilated 24-7) and, of course, heating and cooling. Indeed, line losses from recirculating hot-water are likely to be a much larger energy loss than elevators. (also, for a city like Vancouver, we don’t need to worry as much escalating energy costs making high-rises uninhabitable because the elevator won’t run. Don’t forget, most of those elevators in a Vancouver tower run on hydro-electricity. Not ideal and we must always be vigilant about any energy use, but calm down on the speculative hyperbole).
High-rise towers are not for everyone and certainly not for everywhere, but from my perspective, they have to be in the toolbox for any serious urbanist. Towers enable a lot of design options that work for many sites in the city. And, quite frankly, if we are going to develop the kind of dense, complex, urbanism that we need for a green urban future, the high-rise (above 12 storeys) can make that work much better. There are many benefits to tower urbanism (as part of a complete mix of building types and housing choices in the city). Due to their economy of scale, towers enable more innovative design features and often much more developed public realm solutions (indeed, in Vancouver, almost all towers require a rezoning, which in turn requires LEED Gold certification - which the economics of towers makes easy to do. Not to say that LEED is ideal, its not, but its a key step in Vancouver’s carbon-neutral building strategy). And towers enable more sculpting and terracing (the Australians have done a great job balancing indoor/outdoor space with their towers). And because of the density and public realm that towers in Vancouver have enabled, we’ve seen some big wins for sustainable urbanism. Our per-capita carbon footprints in central Vancouver (1.5 tons/per person) is the lowest in North America, vehicle traffic is way down in the downtown (20% from 1996 to 2011), and over 75% of residents walk to work. Find me a mid-rise neighbourhood in the US that has delivered that kind of shift from the car. And its by living in smaller spaces and traveling by walk/bike/bus that will really hedge our future against the real escalation of energy costs. Density by itself is never the solution, but ‘density done well’ is, and towers can be a part of that.
My concern is the obsession with mid-rise as a way of ‘sneaking in’ density. I see this a lot in California and the result is horrendous. Bulky, cheaply constructed, perimeter block buildings with poor indoor/outdoor relationships. And the reality is that in most North American cities, it is a challenge to develop the kind of intricate large-scale low/mid-rise neighbourhoods that could deliver the kinds of densities that we need to enable a more sustainable urban future. Allowing cities to rise up past the 6-storey cornice line at key places is a smart solution. So I say forget the mid-rise fetishes and embrace smart design of high-rise urbanism. Its part of the big picture.
BTW, the last plan that I did at the City of Vancouver (I was a planner there, hence the many Vancouver references, before beginning my PhD in Urban Planning at UCLA), explicitly embraced both taller buildings (although not above 12 storeys) and a new zone that emphasized the ‘alphabet buildings’ that quite frankly are almost never developed anymore. This was not a central city neighbourhood, so the building heights are low, but I still believe in the tower as part of my urbanist toolbox. I am as much a fan as mid-rise density done well as I am high-rise. But never one at the absolute exclusion of the other.
Love the blog and your work - keep up the good fight!
originally posted here:http://www.originalgreen.org/blog/uninhabitable-high-rises.html