Today, let's go to the other end of the spectrum, which is to
integrate Traditional City elements into the design of potentially
very high density neighborhoods using high-rise buildings, to get a
result that is much better than what we've had for the past several
decades, when using high-rise buildings.
If you've been following along, you probably noticed that, despite
my wholehearted enthusiasm for the Traditional City, in its
Traditional form without any particular innovations except a subway
system, I am not necessarily
against high-rise buildings of heights 30 stories or more.
I don't think that high-rises are "better." Not at all. Nor do I
think they are necessary. Paris has population densities in excess
of 100,000 people per square mile in some areas, with a Traditional
City layout and buildings no higher than about six stories.
Certainly, there are cities with a mostly Traditional City layout
with population densities still higher than that. Manila has an
overall population density of 111,000 people per square mile,
roughly double that of Paris, which means there are some
neighborhoods there which exceed that average by a large margin.
Yes, a density higher than the typical 3,000-8,000 people per square
mile of Suburban Hell is good, but there is no particular need to go
higher than 100,000, which is entirely possible with a Traditional
City format, and indeed, can produce absolutely fabulous
environments at those densities. The benefits of the Traditional
City are completely apparent at the 30,000 people per square mile
density of some of the Japanese single-family detached residential
districts. If you took Los Angeles (the actual municipality of Los
Angeles, not the greater metropolitan area), population density
8,100 people per square mile, and built it in the fashion of Paris
(the actual city of Paris), 54,900 people per square mile, it would
take only 15% as much space! Everyone could live within a mile of
the beach. A twenty-minute walk! Plus, not only could they go
bodyboarding after work, they would also be living in "Paris," at
least, a Southern Californian version of it.
That's dense enough.
Also, I think that many people's negative impressions of
existing high-rise neighborhoods are entirely correct. High-rise
construction basically began around the 1900. The Flatiron Building,
one of the first "skyscrapers" in New York City, was completed in
1902. It is 22 stories high. Doesn't seem like much today, but after
five thousand years of buildings that tended to top out around six
stories -- because that's about the limit of practical wood/stone
construction, and also, nobody wants to climb more stairs than that
-- it was pretty impressive.
As we've seen, the 19th Century Hypertrophic layout in the United
States dates from far earlier than that, to about 1780 or so. This
basically meant buildings that were largely in the Traditional City
style, but very, very wide streets, often 60-100 feet from building
to building, and usually a street layout in the form of a grid. So,
the first high-rise buildings were installed in an existing 19th
Century Hypertrophic layout, which, in New York City, and also
Chicago and a great many other U.S. cities, meant very wide streets
in a grid pattern.
And thus, we have Manhattan. What are the characteristics of this
pattern of high-rises and the 19th Century Hypertrophic street
What tends to happen is that the streets become rather miserable
concrete canyons, with four to six lanes of roaring traffic in the
middle, and the people are huddled against the sides between the
traffic and some monolithic blank wall of a high-rise building. This
can be semi-tolerable for an adult in a business-y mood, but it is a
forbidding and uncomfortable place for women, children and the
elderly. Certainly not a nice place to raise a family. Since women,
children and the elderly, and men with families, constitute about
90% of the population, this makes the 19th Century Hypertrophic High
Rise City a difficult place to live for about everyone. We are, by
now, well aware of this.
However, using Manhattan as a guide, we can say a few good things
too. For one, the fact that buildings are very tall doesn't seem to
detract too much from the experience on the street itself, except
perhaps to make things a little dim. Once you are over twenty
stories or so, you can go up to fifty or even a hundred stories and,
from the street level, it doesn't change much. Also, things seem to
be fine inside the buildings. There doesn't seem to be anything
particularly unpleasant about an office, restaurant or apartment on
the fiftieth floor, except perhaps that buildings are often designed
so that you can't open the windows, and things like balconies,
though possible, are unusual at that height. Against this we have
"airplane views," as the real estate agents say, which is, in fact,
sort of fun. (I once had an office on the 43rd floor in Lower
Manhattan, with nice views.) To summarize: the big problem with the
Manhattan-style 19th Century Hypertrophic layout with high-rises is
the outside part -- once you step outside the buildings.
It's important to see that this 19th Century Hypertrophic pattern
was never planned. It started with some very wide streets and a grid
layout in the late 18th century (itself largely irrational), to
which was added tall buildings mostly in the 20th century. Also, the
20th century brought the introduction of automobiles, which filled
those very wide streets with the constant roar, stink (cars used to
stink a lot more than they do today), and general unfriendliness of
continuous automobile traffic.
By the 1920s, it was natural that someone would think that things
would be improved with some more grass and trees. This would help
provide a balance to the roaring automobile traffic and giant
monolithic buildings stacked into concrete canyons. Also, in fact it
was pretty hard to drive in those 19th Century Hypertrophic Cities,
which were designed decades before the automobile. Ever tried to
drive in Manhattan? So, people wanted a little less daunting
traffic. Wider roads, with things like left turn lanes. Thus was
born 20th Century Hypertrophism, the high-rise complement to
Le Corbusier, "A Contemporary City of Three Million," 1923.
Here we have some very tall buildings but, unlike Manhattan, we
start to space them out. Note the very large roadway (elevated
expressway of perhaps 10 lanes) in the middle.
Richard Neutra, "Rush City Transformed," 1928.
With 20th Century Hypertrophism, the streets, which were already
very wide to begin with, become absolutely immense. You often see
something like twelve lanes of traffic in the middle, always
presented as a sort of centerpiece of the entire city design. A lot
of "green space" is then added everywhere to provide a buffer
between the very large streets filled with automobiles, and the
places where people are. Perhaps, given all the automobile traffic,
we now have the addition of a lot of outdoor parking as well.
At this point, the density is falling dramatically, because,
although we have some very tall buildings, the building
footprint/land area ratio can be very low, perhaps even under 10%.
Oddly enough, the addition of all this "Green Space" and so forth,
inspired by the urge to make the high-rise city a more appealing
place for humans, instead leads to horrible sprawl. It is no longer
so easy to walk anywhere, and besides, there is nowhere to walk to
because so much of the city is now taken up by roadways, Green
Space, and parking lots. Once it is hard to walk, trains and buses
become less useful, because it is not so easy to walk to and from
the train station and bus stop. People begin to drive from one
high-rise building to another. The end result is, again, not a very
nice place for humans, and amounts to Suburban Hell with taller
buildings. We don't even have what small comforts are enjoyed at the
suburban single-family detached house.
Dubai. Impressive blinky lights, but look how the land is used. It
is mostly gigantic roadways and parking lots. Building footprint is
only 10%-20% of land area.
Look at the series of cookie-cutter highrise buildings on the right.
This is fairly typical around the world these days. Would you want
to raise your kids here? Isn't it a little unpleasant?
It appears that the first and foremost design
consideration here was to make some immense superhighways. Which
is, maybe, not really what you want to be living next to hmmmm?
What is the building footprint/land area ratio here?
Las Vegas. Gigantic roadway stuffed with cars, Green Space,
gigantic buildings. Building footprint is actually rather low
Shanghai. Fairly typical high-rise residential buildings. Large
roadways and Green Space.
Typical "20th Century Hypertrophism" residential buildings in
Shanghai. We are quite familiar with this now. Look at the size of
that roadway! Also, note the introduction of a lot of "green
space" to help buffer the immense roadway and the buildings. Look
how teeny the people are here. This is a difficult environment to
walk in. There's nowhere to go, and the distances are very large.
It's important to see that this 20th Century Hypertrophism pattern
is in fact quite unlike the 19th Century Hypertrophic Highrise
Pattern exemplified by Manhattan. In the Manhattan pattern, there is
in fact very little "Non-Place," except for the very large roadways,
and even those are much smaller than what came later in places like
Dubai or Las Vegas.
In the 20th Century Hypertrophic pattern, non-Place could easily
constitute 80% or more of total land area. No wonder these places
are so hideous.
As a contrast, here are some Traditional City places.
Doesn't that look nice? Look how there are no cars and the outdoor
space is dominated by people. The street width is much, much
narrower (although even these are rather wide by Traditional City
standards). Everything is a Place for people, without the majority
of land area being used for non-Place like automobile roadways,
Green Space and parking lots. You can walk right out of the
buildings into a beautiful place for people, not a concrete canyon
with roaring traffic (19th Century Hypertrophism with highrises) or
a non-Place wasteland (20th Century Hypertrophism).
A Traditional City doesn't have to be some twee Italian village.
Here's a street in the Shinjuku district of Tokyo. Contemporary
concrete-box type buildings, but a wonderful environment for
people on the street. A lot different than twelve lanes of traffic
diluted by Green Space.
Another Shinjuku street.
Buenos Aires, Argentina. High rises? Check. Beautiful pedestrian
places? Check. This is so easy.
However, it is not really necessary to pair very large streets
(which this is although devoted to pedestrians) and high rise
So, to summarize the problems we have with these two patterns:
19th Century Hypertrophism with highrises (Manhattan): The outside
space consists entirely of "concrete canyons" with four lanes of
roaring traffic in the middle. Positives: you can walk, and density
is quite high.
20th Century Hypertrophism: The outside space consists of giant
roadways up to twenty lanes wide, "green space" landscaping buffers,
and parking lots. Also, you can no longer walk, but need to drive
from place to place. Despite the tall buildings, density is rather
low due to low building footprint/land area ratio.
Thus, our solution should look something like this:
High building footprint/land area ratio, somewhat like Manhattan
Outside space consists primarily of people-friendly Places, such as
Traditional City elements like:
Pedestrian streets ("Really Narrow Streets")
without automobile traffic
Plazas and squares (without automobiles)
Parks, gardens, sports fields and the like, but
no "green space"
The combination of both of those elements will produce a walkable
environment and a place where people of all ages and conditions can
feel comfortable, which is then complemented nicely by the addition
of a train system.