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Over at Market Urbanism, Stephen Smith responded to my Height Act story, taking particular interest in our little map suggesting places where it would be most advantageous to allow taller buildings. Smith notices that I didn’t include many places in wealthy Northwest neighborhoods, and argues that this is the kind of policy that would hasten gentrification, rather than alleviate its effects. It’s a fair point, but a couple things:

  1. This might seem like a cop-out, but I didn’t mean the map to be exhaustive, by any means. There could just as well be dots around the Tenleytown and Van Ness Metro stations, which would be excellent places to boost heights. Further in, you start running into historic districts, which could pose problems from an practical standpoint—crazy that we’re even talking about this from a practical standpoint!—although Smith rightfully points out that a 200-foot-tall dorm might solve a lot of Georgetown’s problems with the neighborhood.
  2. The really wealthy areas, like Palisades and Spring Valley, aren’t necessarily great places to put residential or office towers: They’re not served by Metro, and they’re not terribly attractive for the types of people who might live in a tall building, whom I generally think of as more cosmopolitan and wanting the kind of street life that the owners of palatial estates haven’t tried particularly hard to attract. Wisconsin Avenue—which I identified on the map—is the most logical location for tall buildings anyway.
  3. What’s the harm in bringing tall buildings to poor neighborhoods, exactly? If they attracted people of diverse income levels, that would bring retail investment, which Marion Barry yells about wanting every chance he gets. There’s enough land east of the river to build housing at a rate that could keep prices stable, even with secondary displacement caused by rising property values. I don’t buy the argument that “allowing condo towers along a streetcar route on Benning Road will price blacks out of the neighborhood”: Inclusionary zoning rules require a certain percentage of their units to be affordable, so more condo towers—or nice rentals—mean more affordable housing, not less. In fact, the only way to avoid poor people being displaced from along streetcar routes is to build as much as possible. With this in mind, the city has been buying up land along these routes in order to foster the preservation of units within reach of families that don’t make lawyer/doctor/lobbyist salaries. And finally, lots of people in Ward 8 will tell you they welcome housing for higher-income folks, because it’ll help businesses that employ residents and allow the area’s economy to grow.
  4. Am I trying to be politically palatable? I guess I’d put it this way: I’m trying to bring this whole discussion from vague theorizing into the realm of the possible.