Learning from other cities

View of European cities from the International Space Station at night. London is at lower left, Paris at center right.

Increasingly, the forefront of innovation and economic growth is occurring at the level of cities and their regions, and less so at the level of national governments. Cities are also interacting more directly with each other, and learning from one another’s successes — and mistakes. To play our part in facilitating that kind of “peer to peer exchange” with Portland, we will pass along timely discussions from other cities about issues similar to those we face.

We start with an article from the UK’s Building Design magazine from last year, on the explosive growth of tall buildings in London — a phenomenon occurring in many cities around the world. (And beginning to be a significant phenomenon in Portland too, notably because of increased allowable building heights under the new 2035 Comprehensive Plan.)

Is this trend, fueled by increasingly global real estate capital, a source of “manna from heaven” to do progressive things, as some in Portland seem to think? Will it help with housing affordability, by creating more supply to meet demand? Will it create a more sustainable city? This author, Ike Ijeh, looks at other cities like Paris and St. Petersburg — and concludes that the boosterish claims are problematic, to say the least. (As we have also argued, citing research evidence.)

From Ijeh’s article:

“And in the background to all this, consternation persists about the profusion of foreign investor-backed luxury residential towers sprouting across the city while thousands of Londoners are in the grip of an affordable housing crisis, a situation that has pressed the mayor of Hackney to call for the rejection of fiercely criticised skyscraper plans for Bishopsgate Goodsyard within his own borough. And in an unprecedented move, even a City of London councillor yesterday voiced serious concerns about the “uncontrolled” extent of high-rise development within the City….This chaotic convergence of events once again underlines how London’s approach to tall buildings is in disarray.”

Ijeh compares London to Frankfurt. Here, he argues, the City had no historic, human-scale core left to speak of; so they frankly embraced tall buildings within a coherent but limited area. Whether or not you agree with him that this monocultural district of corporate offices was a good idea (we don’t) we hope you will find his article thought-provoking.


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