Growing Up Instead of Out

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Robison Wells
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As cities grow, it’s inevitable that they must begin to increase in density. Urban sprawl will always exist, but city centers grow, and there’s only one direction for a downtown to grow: up.

As they grow up instead of out, they’re faced with many positives and negatives. This is healthy and positive. Growth in a city is good. But the question of whether you’re growing in the right ways is important for a building planner to consider. Here are a few pluses and minuses to increasing density:

Open Space:

Downtown space is valuable—much more so than space in the suburbs, as a relatively small plot of land could house a building several stories tall and bring in a lot of income and tax revenue. But for a city to be livable, it needs to have open space, green areas where residents and workers take stop and take a breather—to rest, relax, exercise, or just breathe. As green space is not usually in a developer’s financial interest, cities should incentivize builders to create these areas.

Street Scale:

There is a difference between a walkable downtown and a canyon-like street with giant monoliths on each side. City planners refer to this as street scale: builders should vary the heights of buildings at various levels. A sky scraper shouldn’t start at the sidewalk and rise straight up to its full height. Either the building should be inset a little from the sidewalk, or some kind of stepped gradation in height should be incorporated to break up the monotony of endless high rises.


Structures account for 40% of the nation’s energy consumption. Making new buildings more energy efficient—and retrofitting old ones—is in the financial interest of both the owner and the city.

“Good design is especially important for taller buildings which typically consume two-and-a-half times as much electricity and 40% more natural gas per square foot than buildings of six stories or less,” writes David Ross Scheer, a professor of architecture and urban planning.

On important thing to look at is using materials that are suited to the climate of the city in which they are built. The current trend toward steel and glass may make sense in cooler climates, but is highly inefficient in a warm or hot area.


Lastly, while it’s wonderful to have buildings designed by cutting-edge architects, cities need to retain a portion of the character that the community is built on. There is a balance to be had in preserving the old and embracing the new.

To read more about how one city is dealing with this issue, read the Salt Lake Tribune:

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