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Downtown Austin in 30 years. Not terrifying!

On the radio with Kojo Nnamdi yesterday, Brookings scholar and developer Chris Leinberger and Post architecture critic Roger Lewis went over the whys and hows of increasing height limits in D.C. Of course, it’s all still very hypothetical, and I’m really, really trying to talk less about it.

But the thing is, raising height limits responsibly isn’t some terrifying and mysterious idea. It’s already happening. The city of Austin, Texas has drafted a plan for its downtown core that will creating specific zones for shorter buildings and others where developers can go as high as they want—-in exchange for community benefits in the form of affordable housing, historic preservation, or simple payments. The plan also includes standards for design at the street level and building setbacks as they rise higher, placing a high priority on the pedestrian experience.

And why do this in the first place? In the introduction to its Density and Design section, planners write:

Downtown is an area of the City that benefits greatly from density. The close proximity of buildings and activities to one another provides a unique vibrancy, creative energy and a distinctive sense of place. The concentration of economic activity contributes to the fiscal viability and the health of the City, and a compact and dense Downtown is a keystone of regional sustainability.

That’s why. And it would apply equally well to nodes elsewhere in D.C. as well, if we could create robust and practical plans like Austin’s.